Penn State’s rested and recovered “Wild Dogs” will be at the forefront of the Cotton Bowl.
All season, the Nittany Lion defenders have been bullies at stopping the run game. They’re one of the best in the nation at doing so.
But their highly-acclaimed pass rushers have been more spotty in their effectiveness.
Will they be able to disrupt the most efficient passers in the American Athletic Conference — and one of the best in the nation?
Memphis’ Brady White has thrown 33 touchdowns against nine interceptions this year while completing 64.2 percent of his passes. His offense is scoring just over 40 points per game. This is how the Tigers win.
A key will be whether Penn State’s deep set of pass rushers can disrupt White enough.
The Lions have collected sacks in bunches, nearly half of their 39 this season coming against Idaho and Purdue. But even stellar defensive ends Yetur Gross-Matos and Shaka Toney produced little the rest of the way, save for rising up at Ohio State.
Like the offense, the pass rush disappeared for long stretches. Now, it will be intriguing to watch the efforts of Gross-Matos (still recovering from a hand injury) and the rest of Lion edge rushers like Shane Simmons, Jayson Oweh and Adisa Isaac after a month to rejuvenate.
Memphis figures to devise a unique plan to stem that rush, which may include using extra blockers, double teams or moving their quarterback around.
“If the plan is specifically to (cut) Yetur’s impact in the game, then that needs to create opportunities for others,” Franklin said. “That’s kind of how we look at it.
“No different than a great running back is great for the passing game. Having Saquon Barkley in the backfield, having Miles (Sanders) in the backfield, and the running backs we have (now) in the backfield, create good opportunities for our passing game and vice versa.
“That’s the chess match.”
How to watch the Cotton Bowl
TV: Tune in to ESPN for the opening kick at noon EST from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas (home of the Dallas Cowboys). Mark Jones will do play-by-play with Dusty Dvoracek on color. Olivia Dekker will provide sideline updates.
Local radio: WSBA 910 AM, WHGB 1400 AM
Watch online: Check out WatchESPN
Listen online: Penn State Sports Online Audio
Weather: Mild but cloudy with a 50 percent chance of rain showers. Temperatures will reach the low- to mid-60s. However, the rain threat may cause AT&T Stadium’s retractable roof to be closed.
Series: This is the first meeting between the teams.
Betting line: Penn State is favored by 7 points over Memphis
Rankings: The Lions enter the bowl season at No. 12 in the Amway Coaches Poll and No. 13 in the Associated Press polls. They were No. 10 in the last College Football Playoff rankings. Memphis is 15th in the AP and coaches polls and 17th in the CFP rankings. View all three polls here.
A long time coming: Penn State is making its first Cotton Bowl appearance since beating Baylor, 41-20, after the 1974 season. The Lions are 2-0-1 all-time in the Cotton Bowl. Overall, they are tied for fourth nationally with 29 bowl victories.
Tough vs. new teams: Memphis will be Penn State’s 159th all-time opponent. Since 2000, Penn State has faced 15 new opponents, winning all but the first against Toledo in 2000.
Up next for both: Penn State will open the 2020 season at home against Kent State (Sept. 5). Memphis will open at home against Arkansas State.
Penn State 79, Idaho 7
Penn State 45, Buffalo 13
Penn State 17, Pitt 10
Penn State 59, Maryland 0
Penn State 35, Purdue 7
Penn State 17, Iowa 12
Penn State 28, Michigan 21
Penn State 28, Michigan State 7
Minnesota 31, Penn State 26
Penn State 34, Indiana 27
Ohio State 28, Penn State 17
Penn State 27, Rutgers 6
Defense leads the way: Penn State’s defense is among the best nationally in forcing fumbles (No. 1), rushing yards allowed per game (No. 5) and points allowed per game (No. 7).
Memphis connections: Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry, special teams coach Joe Lorig and defensive back coach Tim Banks all coached at Memphis earlier in their careers. Lorig just coached special teams and linebackers for the Tigers from 2016-18.
Last three seasons
- 2018: 9-4 (6-3 Big Ten)
- 2017: 11-2 (7-2 Big Ten)
- 2016: 11-3 (8-1 Big Ten)
Top performers in 2019
- So. QB Sean Clifford (178-of-299 passing, 59.5 percent, 2,521 yards, 22 TDs, 6 INTs; 103 carries, 374 yards, 3.6 avg., 5 TDs)
- So. RB Journey Brown (113 carries, 688 yards, 6.1 avg., 10 TDs)
- So. WR KJ Hamler (54 receptions, 858 yards, 16 avg., 8 TDs; 23 punt returns, 126 yards, 5.5 avg.; 23 kickoff returns, 489 yards, 21.3 avg.)
- So. TE Pat Freiermuth (41 receptions, 468 yards, 11.4 avg., 7 TDs)
- Jr. DE Yetur Gross-Matos (39 tackles, 14 TFLs, 8.5 sacks)
- So. LB Micah Parsons (95 tackles, 11 TFLs, 3 sacks, 3 pass break-ups, 2 forced fumbles)
More recent PSU coverage
Head coach: Ryan Silverfield
Memphis 15, Mississippi 10
Memphis 55, Southern U 24
Memphis 42, South Alabama 6
Memphis 35, Navy 23
Memphis 52, LA-Monroe 33
Temple 30, Memphis 28
Memphis 47, Tulane 17
Memphis 42, Tulsa 41
Memphis 54, SMU 48
Memphis 45, Houston 27
Memphis 49, South Florida 10
Memphis 34, Cincinnati 24
Memphis 29, Cincinnati 24
Last three seasons
- 2016 8-5 (5-3 American Athletic)
- 2017: 10-3 (7-1 American Athletic)
- 2018: 8-6 (5-3 America Athletic)
On a roll: Since the Tigers’ only loss at Temple, they’ve won seven-straight, including three games vs. Top 25 opponents.
Top performers in 2019
- Jr. QB Brady White (237-of-369 passing, 69 percent, 2,164 yards, 216.4 ypg., 31 TDs, 1 INT; 84 carries, 377 yards, 4.5 avg., 10 TDs)
- Fr. RB Kenneth Gainwell (222 carries, 1,425 yards, 6.4 avg., 16 ypg., 12 TDs; 44 receptions, 532 yards, 12.1 avg., 3 TDs)
- Jr. WR Damonte Coxie (68 receptions, 1,144 yards, 16.8 avg., 9 TDs
- Sr. WR Antonio Gibson (32 receptions, 636 yards, 20 avg., 8 TDs
- Jr. LB Austin Hall (69 tackles, 9.0 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, INT, 2 fumbles recovered)
- Jr. DE Bryce Huff (47 tackles, 15.0 TFLs, 6.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles)