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LOS ANGELES - The 103rd Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual has nearly arrived, as Penn State Football is set for its 47th bowl game appearance in program history, squaring off against USC in "The Granddaddy of Them All."
The fifth-ranked Nittany Lions and the No. 9 Trojans will finally meet on the field at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California Monday at 5 p.m. ET, with live coverage on ESPN.
Penn State's Rose Bowl matchup is nothing short of a marquee matchup, featuring a pair of surging programs with a rich tradition and storied histories. Making their fourth trip to the Rose Bowl, the Nittany Lions and the Trojans first met in the historic event in 1923, in Penn State's first ever bowl game appearance.
USC owns a slim 5-4 advantage in the all-time series, which includes a total of five previous neutral site meetings, including the 1923 and 2009 Rose Bowl games.
In what will be the fourth bowl game meeting between the two teams, the Trojans will become Penn State's most common bowl opponent.
Since touching down in sunny Los Angeles on Monday, the Nittany Lions have soaked in every moment of an exciting and festive week. Penn State held three practices at the StubHub center in nearby Carson, before a final walk through Sunday afternoon.
Penn State also continued its yearly tradition at the conclusion of the final Rose Bowl practice, carrying Nittany Lion seniors off of the practice field with help from selected teammates and staff members.
Outside of business, the Nittany Lions also took some time for a little fun, traveling to Disneyland for a day, enjoying a meal at Lawry's in the beef bowl, taking in a comedy show and even a little bowling on New Year's Eve.
With fun and final preparations complete, it's time for the Nittany Lions to key in on gameday. A bucket list item for head coach James Franklin and a childhood dream for many on the team, the wait is nearly over.
"This is a game that everybody you talk to talks about how special it is and how unique it is," Franklin said. "I think if you have a bucket list as a coach, this is one of the things that you want to do during your career. Obviously, we're blessed to be here."
The Nittany Lions and the Trojans have seemingly similar paths to the Rose Bowl game this season. Most notably, Penn State turned a 2-2 start into a nine-game winning streak for an 11-2 regular season record that featured a dramatic comeback victory against Wisconsin for the Big Ten Championship. Conversely, USC opened the season 1-3 before closing out the regular season on an eight-game winning streak at 9-3 in the regular season with a second place finish in the Pac-12 South Division.
"I don't know if you could have written a better script for the Rose Bowl with USC and Penn State coming together, how our seasons went, how we kind of both took off at the end of the season and our fan bases and all those types of things," Franklin said. "So it should be pretty exciting."
What To Watch For -
1. The Nittany Lions have proven on multiple occasions this season that they're no stranger to a nail-biting second half comeback. Outscoring opponents 298-105 in the second half, Penn state has also outscored its opponents 121-14 in the fourth quarter across the last eight games. As Franklin noted a few times this week though, it's still a top priority for the Nittany Lions to get out to a strong start. Penn State's high-scoring offense will need to spark early and it's defense will need to come through with key stops to help the Nittany Lions avoid another situation like the 28-14 halftime deficit in the Big Ten Championship win against Wisconsin.
2. The dynamic duo featuring Nittany Lion quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley is back for another performance on the field as the two playmakers have been centerpieces of the Penn State offense this year. Penn State is one of just 18 FBS teams with a 3,000-yard passer and a 1,000-yard rusher. In his first season as the starting signal caller, McSorley set the Penn State season passing yards record with 3,360. Barkley, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year enters the Monday matchup with 1,302 yards rushing, which ranks 10th in program history.
3. Franklin noted near the end of the week that a top matchup he's eyeing is between veteran center Brian Gaia and USC All-Pac-12 second team defensive tackle Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, who stands 6 feet 2 inches tall, weighing 320 pounds.
"He has been very disruptive," Franklin said of Tu'ikolovatu. "That's going to be a challenge for us. Brian's our senior starter, a captain, does a great job getting us lined up. He's not the biggest guy in the world. He's big enough to get the job done, but that's going to be a challenge for him."
1. Redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold earned the starting job in the Trojan's fourth game of the season, helping USC to its current eight-game winning streak. The 2016 Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year has thrown for 2,633 yards with 26 touchdowns, tossing multiple touchdown passes in each of the last eight games. Darnold has also completed 213 of 313 total pass attempts on the year.
"I think you've got to try to get to this guy a little bit," Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry said. "But they've done a nice job. He doesn't hold the ball. He's smart enough that he's not going to be careless with it. He doesn't make poor choices. We're going to try to have him do that."
2. Trojan junior do-it-all cornerback-wide receiver-return Adoree Jackson is a highlight of the USC team, who has the ability to come through a wide variety of big plays. The 2016 Jim Thorpe Award winner earned numerous honors this season, as he stands as the USC career record holder for kickoff return yardage (2,045 and returns (75).
"He's definitely a game changer," McSorley said. "A guy of his capability, any time you throw the ball near him, he can maybe a play. He's a big-play guy, so you have to be aware of the type of player he is and where he is at all times, knowing how he plays guys and how he can play in certain different coverages and not being away from him, but respecting the type of player that he is."
3. Led by Tu'ikolovatu, the Trojan defensive line is big, physical and strong having had to rebuild this year after loosing all five starters from the 2015 season. Defensive end Porter Gustin leads the team with 12.0 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Gustin highlighted the season with a game-high nine tackles in the early season meeting against Alabama.
The Final Word -
In a team meeting Franklin asked every single member of the meeting to stand if they had ever been a part of a 12-win season in college football at any point in their career. Only three or four people stood up. Come Monday, the Nittany Lions will have another opportunity to add a milestone to an already impressive list this season.
"I think they're special seasons," Franklin said. "I've been a part of 11-win seasons. I've never been a part of a 12-win season. To me, that's a different threshold. You have 12-win seasons, and there's only a handful of teams in the country that are going to do that. That's special."
Should the Nittany Lions defeat the Trojans, Penn State will etch its first 12-win season into the record book since 1994, a milestone reached by just three other teams in the entire history of the program.
LOS ANGELES - In his final media appearance before gameday, Penn State head coach James Franklin met with members of the media Saturday morning ahead of the 103rd Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual.
The Nittany Lions and the Trojans are set to square off in "The Granddaddy of Them All" Monday, Jan. 2 at 5 p.m. ET with live coverage on ESPN.
Covering a wide variety of topics this morning, Franklin opened his press conference with high praise for the Tournament of Roses organization, for all they have done to provide a unique and memorable experience for the team.
"We've had a tremendous experience so far," Franklin said. "Everything's been really organized. Our players have gotten a chance to have some really unique experiences, same thing with our coaches."
Check out a few more highlights from the Q&A session below.
When asked about his leadership and core values, Franklin was quick to elaborate on one of the fundamental pieces of the Nittany Lion football program - his four core values.
"That's something that I believe in and our players have, and really players that have been with us for a number of years," Franklin said, before describing each of the core values.
For Franklin and his staff though, perhaps the most important and challenging of the four is "sacrifice."
"Everybody says that they want success, but very few people are willing to sacrifice things to have the success that they want," Franklin said. "Are you able to give up small things now for big things later in life?"
Check out Franklin's full segment on the four core values.
The Ultimate Teammate
Speaking of core values, most Penn State fans have seen Franklin's pregame pump up session throughout the year, where he and Nittany Lions Nick Scott and Marcus Allen push back-and-forth, holding the entire team back, just before running on to the field for kickoff.
Having Scott there among the the leaders of the hype, is something Franklin noted as a special responsibility for the junior in the pregame experience, specifically relating to the type of student athlete he is.
"We do a thing that we call ultimate teammate, which, typically in team meetings, we start with either our core values or ultimate teammate and have somebody kind of say that," Franklin said. And ultimate teammate is basically who is the guy in the program that everybody respects for how they handle their business both on and off the field."
Scott is frequently mentioned among staff members and teammates alike as the ultimate teammate, for his positive attitude and energy that he brings daily, whether its in meetings or on gameday.
On a few occasions this season Franklin has noted that based on just eye test alone, Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley might not score high. As the 3,000-yard passer has proved all year long though, it's his unique set of intangibles that are checking boxes for Franklin and his staff.
"Winner, he's a winner," Franklin said. "Four straight State Championships games that he appeared in in high school. Accuracy, he's got that. Mobility, he's got that. Competitive demeanor, he's got that. Ability to affect people around him, I think that's one of the more important traits - it's does he make the people around him better? He does that. Do the guys want to play for him? He does that."
Franklin, Helton and the Leishman
In between press conferences, Franklin and USC head coach Clay Helton paused for a quick picture between the Leishman Trophy, presented to the winner of the Rose Bowl Game.
A Visit with Sandy Barbour
Penn State Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour took time to meet with members of the media at the conclusion of the head coach press conferences. Barbour took time meeting with members of the media for a short question and answer session which spanned a variety of topics.
Barbour pointed out that the success of the Nittany Lion football season has certainly played out positively not only in the Happy Valley community, but across the country too.
"You see it every where you go," Barbour said. "You're seeing it here in L.A. in terms of how Penn Staters feel about their program, win or lose, but it's always nicer when you win, you have a little bit of pep in your step, you square your shoulders a little bit more and we're seeing that here and we're seeing that in every aspect of the community, every aspect of the program."
Check out a snapshot of Barbour's media availability below.
LOS ANGELES - Penn State Football was up and at it bright and early this morning, participating in the Rose Bowl Game media day. The entire team and coaching staff traveled to the media hotel in downtown Los Angeles for nearly an hour of open question and answer sessions.
The Nittany Lions will hit the practice field again early this afternoon before taking a bit of time after practice to give back in a charitable event.
Check out a few updates from the media day event below.
Present in the Moment
Throughout the season, staying present in the moment has been a key focus in the message from the coaching staff to student-athletes, and it's something the Nittany Lions have fully embraced.
"It's been huge, especially toward the end of the season," running back Andre Robinson said. "Especially during the last game, Michigan State, when we were thinking Ohio State needs to beat Michigan for us to go to the Big Ten Championship game or we'll go to this or that bowl, but really just staying in the moment and controlling what we can control has helped us to the position we're in now."
The ability to stay focused under pressure and ignore whatever the outside circumstances are has paid dividends for the Nittany Lions, who enter the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual on a nine-game winning streak, fresh off of the program's fourth overall conference title.
Being at such a historic and prestigious event like the Rose Bowl hasn't deterred the Nittany Lions from their plan to remain present in the moment as gameday draws closer each day.
"Just stay in the present, wherever you're at," quarterback Trace McSorley said. "If we're at Disneyland, being there and having fun and enjoying that. And if you're out of practice, you're in meetings, focus there, paying attention in meetings. At practice you're going through each drill like it's a game day rep, things like that. Just staying present and staying in the moment."
A Turning Point
Speaking of the nine-game winning streak, McSorley has often noted throughout the regular season that the team came together and started watching film on their own nearly four games into the season, getting a head start on their weekly Monday off day.
"On Mondays, me, Brian Gaia, Chris Godwin, DaeSean Hamilton, Andrew Nelson and a couple other guys, kind of got together after the Michigan game and started doing these player runs and film sessions where we get as many guys as we could on the offensive side of the ball, watching as a unit," McSorley said.
The early preparation translated into better practices with the Nittany Lions already having a jump on looks for Tuesday practice. Off the field though, the extra time together ultimately meant a lot more extra time together come postseason.
"As players, we really flipped the switch in our preparation, as far as how we were preparing during the week, the mentality we were bringing into practice ourselves and that kind of switched," McSorley said. "And that change is what really helped us to be able to turn our season around and get us on this nine-win streak we're on and be able to end up being in the Big Ten Championship at the end of year and allow us to play in the Rose Bowl."
Cabinda's Unsung Hero
When asked about who he's name as the unsung hero this year, linebacker Jason Cabinda directed that credit to Penn State's defensive line.
At the start of the season, it was a swirl of doubt that surrounded the Nittany Lion defensive linemen such as Carl Nassib, Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettle, who all departed and moved on to the NFL. As new leaders emerged, that notion of doubt quickly became old news as Penn State was busy moving forward.
"It's a testament to really our strength coaches and what they've been able to do in the offseason," Cabinda said. "They really grind it and really wear teams down in the third and fourth quarter. I think in the second half, you've seen our D-line get a ton of negative yard plays, TFLs and sacks, and even zero yard plays are really huge to be honest."
Check out a few more one-on-one question and answer sessions from Rose Bowl media day below.
A Childhood Dream
If you ask nearly any Nittany Lion on the team about the opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl, it's been a common answer all week that it's a dream-like experience since childhood.
"This game is special and just the tradition it holds here, I remember growing up and watching games and watching USC and Texas go at it," running back Saquon Barkley said. "I'm just really excited to be able to play this game and represent Penn State."
We caught up with a few more Nittany Lions for a look back at some of their earliest childhood memories of "The Granddaddy of Them All."
CARSON, Calif. - Penn State's second Rose Bowl practice on location in California is in the books, as the Nittany Lions took to the practice field at the StubHub Center on a warm and sunny afternoon.
Following practice, offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and five Nittany Lions met with members of the media for the offensive media availably opportunity. Along with Moorhead Nittany Lions Trace McSorley, Saquon Barkley, Mike Gesicki, Ryan Bates and DaeSean Hamilton spent time during the half hour question and answer session.
After wrapping up defensive media availability yesterday, Penn state is another day closer to the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. ET Monday, January 2nd in Pasadena.
Check out a few takeaways from the afternoon media sessions.
In just his first season as Penn State's offensive coordinator, Joe Moorhead has reshaped and revamped the Nittany Lion offense into a dynamic unit that ranks among the most prolific in program history.
The revitalization is just what Moorhead had in mind when he arrived in Happy Valley and something that certainly didn't happen over night.
"We came in during camp and Joe Mo put up on a board all the teams, the successful teams in Penn State history and the bowl games they went to and the points they averaged," Barkley said. "It's all 30 points or up."
Similar to a roadmap, that board in preseason would be the foundation for Moorhead's newly installed offense, with the goal to reach the ultimate level, whether it be a national championship or even a prestigious bowl such as the upcoming "Granddaddy of Them All."
Aware of the challenge ahead, the Nittany Lions have dazzled fans with a high-scoring offense that frequently features a sprinkling of jaw-dropping long yardage plays. Perhaps it's more than a sprinkling though, as the tandem of McSorley and Barkley have played major roles in helping Penn State emerge among Big Ten teams as a leader in chunk plays of 20 yards or more.
An abrupt deep ball is all part of what makes the offense so exciting for the Nittany Lions to execute week in and week out though.
"That's the nature of our offense," Hamilton said. "A deep play could happen any moment, any time. So just always being prepared when your number is called and things like that is really what it all comes down to, and knowing your details, knowing your assignments no matter what. Guys have been able to step forward and take on their roles and take on their opportunities."
One of those Nittany Lions taking full advantage of his opportunity on the field is Hamilton, who has seen success throughout the season, but most recently posting a game-high eight catches in the Big Ten Championship game against Wisconsin - the second-most in the history of the event.
For Hamilton, the opportunity to make big plays has come from the year-long focus from Penn State opponents, attempting to limit Barkley.
"Guys trying to take him away opens up the passing lanes for guys like myself, Mike [Gesicki], Chris [Godwin], DeAndre [Thompkins], and things like that," Hamilton said. "Once that happens, teams are finally caught off balance, they don't know what to do. Then when we're able to hit them with a run or a pass, and those go for 20, 25 yards, big plays like that, then teams are just caught off guard, and that's when we're finally clicking on all cylinders."
A Few Notes on USC and the Rose Bowl
- Barkley's early USC impressions thus far in pregame preparation.
"Their defensive line is impressive in general. But their one defensive tackle is really good. We have to be aware where he lines up and where he's at. Their one linebacker, I think he was a freshman All-American last year, he was really good too. Their one defensive end is huge. I mean, looks like a door, like he's huge, like he's really massive."
- Hamilton's early takeaways on the Trojan defense.
"Fast, athletic. I'd say really they swarm around the football. Confident group of players. I'd say they're a lot like our defense. Very athletic in the back end. Strong, strong front seven, and basically kind of athletic in the front end also."
- McSorley's impressions on USC'S Adoree Jackson.
"A guy of his capability, any time you throw the ball near him, he can maybe a play. When he gets the ball in his hands or he gets his hand on the ball, he's a threat to do something with. He's a big-play guy, so you have to be aware of the type of player he is and where he is at all times, knowing how he plays guys and how he can play in certain different coverages and not being away from him, but respecting the type of player that he is. Not being scared of it, but respect that he is a tremendous talent and he's a tremendous player."
More from the Nittany Lion Q&A sessions below.
A VIP Rose Bowl Experience
Penn State families and friends were treated to a special experience this afternoon. Various family members, staffers and friends were all invited to a VIP tour of the Rose Bowl Stadium as well as a sneak peak at the float decorating stations for the upcoming Tournament of Rose Parade on gameday.
Check out a sneak peek from the exclusive tour.
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Penn State football attended the
annual Lawry's Beef Bowl Wednesday evening for a prime rib feast. One of the oldest and most historic traditions in Rose Bowl Game history, the Nittany Lions traveled
Beverly Hills, entering the restaurant with a warm welcome.
"Overall the whole experience has been tremendous," Franklin said. "Coming in here tonight with the welcome we got was awesome."
Penn State head coach James Franklin as well as Nittany Lions Mike Gesicki and Curtis Cothran met briefly with members of the media before getting right to eat.
Nittany Lion Tyler Yazujian did the honors for Penn State with the ceremonial salad spin.
"First I was a little nervous, I didn't want to mess it up," Yazujian said. "But it was fun and I'm glad I got to do it."
Derek Dowrey followed with the ceremonial first cut of prime rib, decked out in a chef's attire before delivering a heaping plate of tasty food to Franklin.
"It was a lot of pressure, the guys here tired to coach me up the best they could, they're professionals though, I'm not on the level they are very talented. I just had to cut the steak and plate the food as best as I could and take it to coach Franklin.
CARSON, Calif. - For the first time since arriving in California, Penn State football hit the practice field at the StubHub Center this afternoon. Following practice, defensive coordinator Brent Pry and five Nittany Lions met with members of the media for the defensive media availability opportunity.
With less than five days remaining until Penn State and USC meet in "The Granddaddy of Them Al," Pry and Nittany Lions Evan Schwan, Brandon Bell, Jason Cabinda, John Reid and Marcus Allen all met with members of the media with questions ranging from a broad variety of Rose Bowl topics.
Improvement Up Front
Pry had high praise for his Nittany Lions up front, specifically giving credit to a group of redshirt freshmen who have improved steadily as the season progressed, gaining more confidence with each opportunity.
"Robert Windsor, Kevin Givens, Shareef Miller, you're talking about a bunch of redshirt freshmen, Ryan Buchholz, that as the year went on, they got more comfortable at their position, and we got more comfortable doing more with them," Pry said.
For Pry, having the ability to see young guys gain their footing and make adjustments, has played into Penn State's evident shifts in momentum from the first half to the second half of a variety of games this season. On the year, Penn State's second half offense ranks second in the FBS (22.92) with the Nittany Lions outscoring opponents 298-105 in the second half this season.
"I think part of it is we do have some young guys out there, some inexperienced players, and sometimes seeing the plays at live speed, getting used to the game speed against a different style of offense, I think there is some of that, an inexperience factor," Pry said.
For Pry, that growing maturity throughout the season has translated into a more experienced Nittany Lion unit up front - one that now possess the ability to execute at a higher level.
Nittany Lions on Coach Pry
As Pry's first season as Penn State's defensive coordinator is nearly wrapped up, every single Nittany Lion available talked not only about his positive demeanor on the field, but also his father-like intangibles that have made his transition move along with ease.
"There's challenges with all these young guys, and you're here to help them succeed and grow and mature and understand and realize things," Pry said. "That's awesome. Football's a great tool to do that, a great vehicle for those guys to mature. I've said it. I believe 100% the more maturity we put on that field, the better off we are."
Prior to practice, Penn State linebacker Jason Cabinda announced he'll be staying in Happy Valley for another season, deciding to opt out of an early departure to the NFL.
🔵⚪️🔵⚪️🔵⚪️📢 pic.twitter.com/SBDPBj6Au5-- Jason Cabinda (@jasoncabinda) December 28, 2016
"I just felt like it's the right thing for me to do and I thought it was in the best interests for me," Cabinda said. "Obviously make sure I have my degree, as well and I get to play for Penn State for a whole 'nother year. Not a lot more to say than that. I love playing here and I love this place to death."
A Few Notes on USC and the Rose Bowl
- Jason Cabinda on how the Trojans have compared to other teams this season.
"I think from a talent aspect, they are up there with the best of them. They have got really good receivers, big receivers. I don't think we've played receivers as big as USC has, big possession receivers who can make big catches."
- Brent Pry on USC quarterback Sam Darnold.
"He doesn't hold the ball. He's smart enough that he's not going to be careless with it. I think they're asking him to do the right things. He's got a quick release. Again, I liken him to our guy."
- Evan Schwan on returning to the Rose Bowl to compete this time, rather than attending with his family as a fan.
"Actually when I was home for break for Christmas, my mom was pulling out a bunch of pictures, saying hey, this is us at the Rose Bowl kind of thing, so 16 years later, to be able to play in such a prestigious game, "The Granddaddy of Them All," it's such an honor. I'm honored to be with my team out here and play one last game."
- Brandon Bell on defending a dynamic Trojan offense.
"A ton of athletes that they get the ball to in space. Those guys make plays, athletic, O-line. The running back is one of the best running being backs we might see this year. Just fast guys that they get the ball to him."
- John Reid on Adoree Jackson and what he brings to the Trojan team.
"We know on offense and even special teams, the work he does there. He's an explosive guy, real athletic. I remember in his previous years, he played a little more receiver than he did this year, so you have to respect that as a defense and things like that. We know he's going to be pretty much everywhere, if they play him on offense. So we have to kind of prepare for that."
ANAHEIM, Calif. - Penn State Football was treated to an afternoon of fun and excitement at Disneyland and the park's ESPN Zone Monday.
While most of the team headed straight to the park, Penn State head coach James Franklin and a few Nittany Lions participated in the official Rose Bowl game welcome ceremony, with a press conference and media availability hosted right inside the park.
First up, Penn State kicked off the event in California Adventure's Cars Land, introduced with USC head coach Clay Helton and a few student-athletes, with a brief question and answer session in front of a packed crowd.
Franklin introduced the attending Nittany Lions before the group was off to the Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters ride, where both Penn State and USC rode the attraction following a few opening remarks from the likes of the president of the Tournament of Roses and Disneyland Resort vice president, Patrick Finnegan.
Next up, both teams took time for their first media appearance since arriving to Los Angeles, seated in chairs below the afternoon California sun, taking questions from a strong showing from the media contingent.
"Our guys are really excited to experience all of this and obviously Disney is a huge part of that," head coach James Franklin said. "It's a great experience for our players to be a part of the Rose Bowl, we're extremely honored and proud and it's great for Disney to open their doors and allow us to have this experience."
Already settled into the area, Penn State is able to get right into the format of a typical game week practice schedule. With a few USC bonus practices already completed back home in Happy Valley, it will be business as usual when the Nittany Lions return to the practice field come tomorrow afternoon.
First though, Penn State is taking advantage of a little down time, enjoying the Disney parks and spending time with teammates.
"I've never been to Disneyland," Nittany Lion Garrett Sickels said. "I'm an east coast guy, I've been to Disney World, so we're looking forward to having a good day and then tomorrow getting after practice and getting ready for the game."
For Penn State wide receiver Chris Godwin, his first trip to California has already kicked off with a fun and relaxing start.
"This is a chance for us to unwind and enjoy being in California," Godwin said. "I think that it will be good for our team to unwind, kick back and have some fun."
Godwin, Sickels, Koa Farmer and Brian Gaia also hit the Radiator Springs Racers ride in the park just before members of the Trojans team.
Then it was off to the ESPN Zone, where the entire team enjoyed an hour of games and food before given the opportunity to head back into the park for the rest of the evening.
Tomorrow, Penn State will hit the practice field, traveling just outside Los Angeles to the StubHub Center for the first official Rose Bowl practice out in California.Penn State will cap tomorrow with a feast at the Lawry's Beef Bowl later in the evening.
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