Brown, Parsons Shine in Lone Star State Shootout
ARLINGTON, Texas — Producing the highest scoring game in 84 years of Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic history, the No. 10 Penn State Nittany Lions (11-2,7-2) turned to high school running backs on both offense and defense to tame the AAC champion Memphis Tigers (12-2,7-1) on the way to a 53-39 victory.
With a career-high and team-bowl-record 202 rushing yards, Journey Brown paced an offensive attack that rushed for a whopping 396 yards. Linebacker Micah Parsons, who has traded touchdowns for tackles during his Penn State tenure, notched 14 tackles and two sacks and hurried Memphis quarterback Brady White into a game-changing pick six at the hands of safety Garrett Taylor.
“I was able to get my opportunity and make the most of it,” Parsons said, referencing his performance on the New Year’s Six platform. “I was able to take advantage of it today.”
Brown and Parsons were named the Most Outstanding Offensive and Defensive Player, respectively, for their efforts.
After an opening 15 minutes of play when quarterback Sean Clifford struggled mightily, White and company made quick work to take a 13-7 lead and ignite a pro-Memphis crowd.
Running the ball 18 times against five passing attempts, the second quarter belonged to the Nittany Lions. Notching 28 points en route to a 35-23 halftime advantage, an insistence on running the ball worked to perfection for Penn State.
“I feel like just the line up front, those big boys, they really set the tone,” said Brown, who also scored Penn State’s first touchdown. “With the wide receivers and tight ends blocking, the edges opened up for what I could do. So, kudos to them for sure.”
Though he’ll return to his role of tight ends coach with the recent hiring of former Minnesota offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, Tyler Bowen opened eyes nationwide with his interim performance. Leading a unit that put up 529 yards of total offense with a quarterback returning from injury, Franklin noted that he's very fortunate to have coaches like Bowen on his staff.
Defensively, Penn State was far from perfect. Allowing a season-high 479 yards through the air, Memphis exploited the Nittany Lions’ secondary with relative ease. A QB sneak from the goal line capped off a six-play, 75-yard drive to put Memphis within five early in the third quarter.
Penn State gave the ball right back when Clifford was picked off by Memphis’ Austin Hall on the next possession. Though Memphis failed to take advantage of great field position at the Penn State 29-yard line, one of Riley Patterson’s record-setting six field goals brought the Tigers within two.
By trading field goals for the remainder of the third quarter, it seemed whichever team had possession last would be the winner. That is, until Parsons took matters into his own hands.
Coming on a linebacker blitz, Parsons hit White from behind and knocked the ball skyward into safety Garrett Taylor’s hands at the Memphis 15-yard line. Though Taylor waltzed into the end zone for the score, Parsons’ impact on the play was clear to all in attendance.
“Nobody prepares for those opportunities and those moments more than [Parsons] does,” Brown said. “This dude is one of the best blitzers I’ve ever gone against.”
Penn State would score one more touchdown and Memphis a field goal, but the game was all but decided after Taylor’s pick six.
Many predicted this year’s Penn State team to reach eight or nine victories, yet an 11-win season marks Franklin’s third in six years in Happy Valley. By capping off the season with a marquee bowl victory and returning many contributors on both offense and defense, Franklin spoke of this team being the kind that lays the foundation for the future.
“I think this game and these 11 wins and these young players that are going to be returning is going to give us a lot of momentum into next season, which we’re going to need,” Franklin said.
Andrew Destin is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.