The defense was apparently optional in this year’s Cotton Bowl Classic. In the highest-scoring Cotton Bowl in the history fo the game, No. 10 Penn State put the finishing touches on its second New Years Six bowl win in three years by holding off No. 17 Memphis in a wild 53-39 victory on Saturday.
Penn State got a terrific performance out of First Team All-American linebacker Micah Parsons, who was just everywhere in the game, and the defense caused a couple of key turnovers to help counterbalance a strong showing by the Memphis offense. Brady White passed for 479 yards but failed to throw a touchdown and was picked off twice by the Nittany Lions, with one being returned for a touchdown by Garrett Taylor.
Penn State had the decided advantage on the ground with its running game. As a team, Penn State rushed for 390 yards with everyone contributing. Journey Brown led the charge with 202 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Noah Cain added 92 yards and two more touchdowns. Ricky Slade added 57 yards and Devyn Ford scored a touchdown. Sean Clifford didn’t have a great passing day but did rush for 28 yards on a day he was sacked a number of times.
Penn State and Memphis combined for 84 points to set the record for the highest-scoring Cotton Bowl. Penn State’s 53 points is also a school record for most points scored in a bowl game. The previous record was 50 points in the Holiday Bowl in 1989 against BYU.
Memphis kicker Riley Patterson turned in a record-setting performance, and not just for the Cotton Bowl. Ferguson’s six field goals is a new national college bowl game record. Memphis certainly had the ball moving on Penn State’s defense throughout the game but had to rely on the foot of Ferguson a few too many times as drives stalled.
The Cotton Bowl victory improves James Franklin to 2-1 in New Years Six bowl games in the last four seasons and evens Franklin’s bowl record at Penn State at 3-3.
Penn State will open the 2020 season at home on Sept. 5 against Kent State. Memphis will begin its 2020 season on the same day with a home game against Arkansas State.
A week after suffering its first loss, No. 9 Penn State (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) didn’t exactly rebound in crisp fashion at home against Indiana (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) on Saturday. But after 60 minutes of play, the Nittany Lions will take a win any way they can as they get set for a massive test next week. A late touchdown run by Sean Clifford provided the much-needed breathing room as Penn State fought for a 34-27 victory.
After Indiana trimmed Penn State’s lead to 27-24 in the fourth quarter, Penn State orchestrated an 18-play drive that shaved off over nine minutes of game clock. Clifford ended the drive by pushing across the goal line for a touchdown to create a late two-score game. Clifford lost a fumble in the game but did not throw an interception a week after being picked off three times. Clifford ended his day with 179 passing yards and a touchdown pass to Nick Bowers, and Clifford added 54 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns in the victory.
Penn State also had another 100-yard day from running back Journey Brown (21 carries, 100 yards, 1 touchdown) and two big catches from tight end Pat Freiermuth (although no touchdowns). Penn State lost wide receiver KJ Hamler to an apparent head injury in the first half. His status moving forward will now be in some question.
Indiana also lost its top playmaker with receiver Whop Philyor leaving the game late in the first half. Peyton Ramsey and the Hoosiers still managed to make some plays to keep drives alive (Ramsey passed for 371 yards and a touchdown and scored two touchdowns on the ground), and a pair of special teams mishaps didn’t help in the effort. Philyor muffed a punt in the first quarter that ultimately led to a Penn State touchdown (although video replay showed he may not have touched the ball, but not strong enough to overturn the call on the field), and one of the worst fake punt attempts was quickly turned into a big Penn State touchdown in the third quarter.
Next up for Penn State is a big one. The Nittany Lions travel to Columbus, Ohio next week to take on Ohio State. The undefeated Buckeyes (barring a monumental upset on the road at Rutgers today) will be the biggest test of the year for a Penn State team that has had room for improvement across the board the last few weeks. First place in the Big Ten East will be on the line, and there is a chance Ohio State could wrap up the division with a win. Penn State needs to win to have a shot at the Big Ten championship and to remain in the playoff race heading into the final game of the regular season.
Indiana will play its final home game of the season next week when they host Michigan.
Penn State nearly found themselves in the same halftime deficit at home from a week ago, but a school-record field goal from 57 yards by Jordan Stoudt tied the game at 10-10 with just seconds to go until halftime. Pitt took a late first-half lead on a Vincent Davis touchdown run before Penn State was able to answer before halftime.
In a slightly familiar theme for the first half for Penn State, a slow start on offense must be overcome. Last week, Penn State trailed Buffalo at halftime by an identical 10-7 deficit, and Buffalo also took the lead late in the first half. Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett got off to a rough start but has calmed down and found his poise with short, high-percentage passes to methodically attack the Penn State defense. Pitt’s gameplan to work the clock has worked with the Panthers controlling the football for nearly double the time Penn State has held the football, and the defense for the Panthers have not made things easy for Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford.
Clifford has been under pressure for much of the first half. If not for an 85-yard run by Journey Brown on third-and-long from the Penn State three-yard line in the first quarter, Penn State may have only had three points the way the first half has gone. Brown’s long run led to Penn State opening the scoring with a Devyn Ford touchdown run from the one-yard line to cap a 98-yard touchdown drive.
So once again, Penn State has some work to do with the offense at halftime. Protecting Clifford has to be a priority. Meanwhile, Pitt can stick to their slow and methodic style until pressed to make a change. This is the kind of game that plays to Pitt’s advantage.