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Let's Win This Damn Thing – 2023 Rose Bowl Preview

Let's Win This Damn Thing – 2023 Rose Bowl Preview
Photo by Joshua Harris / Unsplash

Before we get into our final preview of the season, I want to take a quick moment to share our appreciation for all of you listeners, readers, and subscribers. It’s been such an incredible season, and we’ve had so much fun making the newsletter and the podcast, and we couldn’t have done it without all of your support. As we go into the offseason, we are planning to continue to record the podcast and produce the newsletter, and are really excited about our upcoming content plans.

Thank you all so much for an amazing 2022 season. I think you’ll love what we have in store for the offseason and beyond.

Sometimes it is still hard for me to believe that Utah is playing in the 2023 Rose Bowl Game. The path that led to this year’s game was somehow even more surprising than last, with Utah dropping an additional conference game, and needing a lot of help from other teams at the 11th hour. With Oregon State and Washington wins, Utah snuck into the Pac-12 Championship Game, beat the eventual Heisman winner and nearly-playoff-bound Trojans convincingly in Las Vegas for their second-straight conference title.

But now as Utah returns to Pasadena for their second-straight Rose Bowl, they are coming with unfinished business. Last year’s instant classic with Ohio State was truly one of the highlights of my Utah fandom – despite Utah losing – because of everything it meant for Utah to have made it to that game, and the spectacle of the game itself. But this year, Utah playing underneath a famous Pasadena New Year sunset simply won’t be enough.

The next ceiling for Utah to break is winning the Rose Bowl. This is their opportunity to put the finishing touch on another special season, and to hang another banner. It’s great to be back, but let’s win this damn thing.

#7 Utah vs #9 Penn State. 3pm MT. ESPN.

If you listened to this week’s Utah Blockcast Pod we went in depth on how eerily similar these two teams are, not only in style of play, but scheme, rankings, offensive and defensive performance, QB production, defensive production, and so on.

It’s a bit poetic that in order for Utah to win the Rose Bowl, the team they need to beat is the team that is most like themselves. Over the past few years, as we’ve seen Utah’s successive generations continue to improve, and bring Utah to respective new heights each time, we’ve also seen those generations stumble, and not meet their own expectations. In previous eras, Utah and Whittingham were criticized for being unable to win the big games after joining the Pac-12, and it wasn’t without merit, as the team repeatedly dropped games in which it was favored, some of which cost them earlier chances at Pac-12 Championship Game appearances.

The current era of Utah Football has already reached new heights for the program, with back-to-back Pac-12 Championships and Rose Bowl appearances, but so far in their biggest game, they are unsuccessful. Another Rose Bowl loss would leave a big question mark on this era’s legacy, to some extent like the legacies of those before, who reached big moments, like back-to-back Pac-12 Championship Games, but who couldn’t quite leave either time with a win.

Utah has two opponents on Monday night, and both of them look like the team in the mirror.

With the upcoming changes to the College Football Playoff landscape, and the subsequent changes to the Rose Bowl Game, the 2023 matchup against Penn State may be Utah’s last opportunity to win a Rose Bowl, and to prove to themselves and to everyone else that the lights weren’t too bright.

Matchups to watch

Cam Rising vs Penn State Pressures/Simulated Pressures. On the offensive side of the ball, Cameron Rising will be the key to everything. Penn State is a very good defensive team. It’s largely why the comparisons to Utah are so prevalent, they make it difficult for opposing offenses and often ugly up a lot of games. Penn State has a lot of good athletes up front and they do a good job of defending the run and getting after the quarterback. Manny Diaz has brought an aggressive defensive scheme to Penn State, which is evident in their 268 total pressures and 36 sacks. So, they are aggressive but they also simulate a lot of aggressiveness as well, as Penn State will show blitz pre-snap (often with multiple defenders showing blitz at the line of scrimmage) but then only attack specific areas of protection with four-man rushes, which allows them to keep bodies in coverage. Obviously, Utah’s pass protection will play a big role in this and the Utes O-line has done a great job all season long of protecting the quarterback against a variety of different defenses. However, protecting the quarterback is only half of the problem here, which is where Rising comes into this. He will need to be at his best and most disciplined, as he will need to maintain a good feel for the Penn State pass rush, while also being mindful of what players are dropping into coverage and where. Rising has a knack for buying time in and out of the pocket, that will also help here as well. Utah has the athletes to make plays in the passing game against the Penn State defense but success all starts in the pocket for Utah in this one.

Utah Gap Integrity vs Penn State Run Game. The biggest matchup of the game will be Utah’s defensive front six or seven and their ability to limit the Penn State run game. The Nittany Lions are a lot like Utah, as we’ve discussed a lot this week, and their commitment to and success with running the ball is a big reason why. With two dynamic running backs in Nicholas Singleton (a former five-star running back) and Keytron Allen, they have two freshman studs that have combined for nearly 2,000 yards. All these two need are a crease and they have the ability to create big chunk plays. Penn State’s run game is split nearly evenly between zone and gap run concepts. They utilize inside and outside zone and read-option concepts pretty heavily but match those with power, counter, pin & pull, and sweep gap run plays as well. This is not a simple run game to prepare for as Utah will need to be prepared for a variety of looks. This game will be a true test for the Utes and provide clarity on how much progress has truly been made in defending the run. Utah played and defended the run much better in the final month of the season. They played more fundamentally sound football and clearly made progress, but that progression will be put to the test. Junior Tafuna, Aliki Vimahi, and Simote Pepa have played really good football and they will be incredibly important in controlling things inside. The defensive ends have gotten better playing the run and they will be particularly important in maintaining gap integrity against Penn State in this one, as Penn State has found a lot of success running to the edges. The linebackers need to be physical when attacking the inside run but also quick and precise when getting to the outside.

Penn State RBs/TEs vs Utah LBs/SAFs. An intriguing matchup in this one will be how Utah defends the Penn State running backs and tight ends. We won’t spend too much time on defending the run game as we’ve already covered that but both running back and tight end positions are featured fairly prominently in the passing game. Brenton Strange and Theo Johnson are the two big tight ends, whom Cole Bishop and Sione Vaki will have the opportunity to defend in coverage quite a bit. Strange is more of a short to intermediate type of pass catcher, while Johnson is more of the vertical threat. Both Cole and Sione matchup well against these two in coverage from a physical and athletic standpoint. Reid, Diabate, and Barton will also see a good amount of action against the tight ends and running backs in coverage.

Peep the Fit

Penn State will be the visiting team, and unsurprisingly will be wearing their iconic all-white uniforms.

What a treat for Utah fans to get to experience a Penn State whiteout in the Rose Bowl. The all-white uniforms are one of the most famous uniforms in all of college football, and it will be a great experience for Utah fans to get to be part of that tradition in the Rose Bowl. With their fans all planning to wear white, it will be a beautiful contrast of Penn State fans clad in all white and Utah fans in red.

Utah fans will be in red, because as home team, Utah will also be in red, and not just in red, but in some of their best red uniforms to date.

Oh my goodness gracious.

Let’s start with the helmet, which is one of, if not the single greatest Utah helmet of all time. I thought the interlocking-U logo with the rose was perfect last year on the white helmet, but the remix on the cherry red helmet has shown me that I was wrong. On top of the helmet – which is, again, perfect – the team is also wearing the red throwback uniforms, another callback to their white throwback combination last year.

This is the uniform matchup of the year, and at the perfect time.

Betting lines

2022 record: 14-16. Last game: 2-2.

The ever-elusive .500% betting record on the season is still within reach. In the Pac-12 Championship Game we played two prop bets in addition to our standard spread and game total picks. Naturally, our game picks both hit (Utah +2.5 and over 67), but our prop bets both lost. Will we once again tempt fate by adding a third bet to have a chance to improve over .500%? What kind of podcast newsletter would we be if we didn’t?

Utah -1.5. A line this close in a game like this is basically a pick ‘em, and spoiler alert, I like Utah in this one. I think this game is going to be close, partly because of the aforementioned similarity between these two teams, but also because of the nature of these two teams’ styles of play is to shorten games, play physical, and keep games as close as possible. They’re both strong enough defensively to impose their wills even with key opt outs on both sides. Ultimately I think Utah has the better offense, and the better resume against strong opponents, and that makes me confident enough that they’ll win a close one.

Under 52.5. This game feels like a boxing match to me, with two teams who, when given the choice, would rather line up and hit you for four quarters than score points and win. These two teams’ identities are built around their defenses and their toughness, and I think it will come out for both of them on Monday.

Will there be a scoreless quarter? Yes (+219). I’m not sure I’m totally sold on this, but it’s the best prop bet available that I found, and we need to get over .500%. Plus, I think we’re in for one sicko quarter in this slugfest.


There aren’t any silver linings or moral victories this year. Utah came to win the damn thing.

Utah – 24

Penn State – 21

New Years 6 Bowls

Allstate Sugar Bowl – #5 Alabama vs. #9 Kansas State. 12/31 @ 10am MT. ESPN.

That #5 next to Alabama looks sweeter every time I see it. The simple joy of Alabama not being among the super-elite, but simply among the elite normies playing in a non-playoff NY6 bowl game is a much needed top-off to my petty tank as we head into a long offseason. Kansas State draws Alabama in one of the few times the Tide has shown mortality in the past decade. The Wildcats offense is better than it may have ever been, and they have a unique opportunity to upset a team on the opposite end of the CFB Brand Spectrum, something Utah fans certainly remember dearly from their own opportunity in 2009.

Prediction: Alabama isn’t going to lose to Kansas State in SEC territory. I know you could have said the same thing about Utah in 2009. I don’t care. This isn’t the type of game Alabama loses anymore, let-down game for them or not.

Alabama – 41

Kansas State – 27

Vrbo Fiesta Bowl – #3 TCU vs. #2 Michigan. 12/31 @ 2pm MT. ESPN.

The first of the semifinal games is against a brilliant contrast of styles. Michigan plans to run the ball directly at you on offense, and has played great defensively against the run and pass. TCU has a chaotic highlander at QB, capable of winning a football game from sheer willpower. The Frogs, however, have shown no indication they are capable of countering even moderately successful rushing attacks. Michigan is going to run for like 300 yards, and Max Duggan is going to leave his entire soul on the field trying to climb out of that hole.

Prediction: Michigan is beating the brakes off everybody they have played this season, except the team they played that could stop the run. TCU is not that team (neither is Ohio State, but Georgia is).

TCU – 21

Michigan – 38

Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl – #4 Ohio State vs. #1 Georgia. 12/31 @ 6pm MT. ESPN.

Hot take? I don’t think Ohio State is that good this season! Much like TCU, they have big problems stopping the run, but have been better against the pass. CJ Stroud is incredible, and tOSU’s receiving corp is second to none, but with Smith-Njigba opting out, and the Buckeyes tendency to get one dimensional on offense make them a very vulnerable playoff team.

Georgia, on the other hand, is probably better than we’ve given them credit for because the Dawgs aren’t who they were last year on defense. At times it feels like Georgia gets a little lost offensively, but when they settle in and use their weapons, they can be unstoppable. And the defense is pretty good too.

Prediction: I think Georgia might have Ohio State right where they want them. If Kyle Whittingham hasn’t opened that gift basket Ryan Day sent yet, I’d keep it wrapped, because Day might ask for it back.

Ohio State – 20

Georgia – 45

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic – #16 Tulane vs. #10 USC. 1/2 @ 11am MT. ESPN.

I don’t understand a future where this is not a shootout. USC has the better offense of the two teams, but Tulane’s offense is one of the best in the country as well, and we all know what that USC defense likes to do (or not do) with ball-carriers. I am certain of only one thing in this game, and that is the over. I don’t even know what it is, but I like it.


Tulane – 49

USC – 42

Disagree with our picks? Tweet us @BlockcastPod on Twitter.

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