First of all, hats off to Memphis. Not only did they come out swinging but they hung in there when the going got tough. That alone is enough to earn my respect. In the end, Journey and the Humble Beast were far too much for the competition to overcome. There’s more to the story as Penn State toppled Memphis in the 2019 Cotton Bowl to cap off a 53-39 shootout. Much more. But man, oh man, did you see what those two did in Dallas? Incredible. If it wasn’t Journey Brown busting through the line to showcase his blazing speed, it was Micah Parsons terrorizing the line of scrimmage as the Tigers tried their best to keep up.
Brown was almost an afterthought in a crowded running back room when this season began, but at its end, he is now the face of the LawnBoyz. He lit up a Memphis D that could not stop him to the tune of 204 yards and a pair of touchdowns, the first of which made No. 5 on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays of the Day. He stiff-armed, carried, drug, and bowled over would-be tacklers on his way to paydirt. And then there’s the linebacker from Harrisburg who was a living nightmare from the opening kickoff until the confetti started to fall on the floor of AT&T Stadium. Many have compared him to LaVar Arrington, the highest of compliments for sure but what I saw in Dallas was the best what Poz or Sean Lee had to offer with an extra level of swagger. On the heels of that total domination, the Heisman Hype for 2020 began and by the time he leaves Happy Valley, everyone else may be looking up at the self-proclaimed Humble Beast.
On offense, the journey wasn’t Brown’s alone as all his brothers got in on the action. Noah Cain returned from a nagging injury to rack up 92 yards on 15 carries and logged two short-yardage touchdowns. Devyn Brown scored once, and Ricky Slade added a timely 44-yard beauty of a run. Of course, none of that would have been possible without the O-Line opening holes as wide as the ocean as the Nittany Lions racked up 390 yards on the ground. The passing game was largely ineffective aside from a Jahan Dotson touchdown reception and a few crucial first downs by tight end Pat Freiermuth (who also caught a two-point conversion), but with the ground game firing on all cylinders, Sean Clifford had little need to do anything except hand the rock off to his stable of thoroughbreds.
Brent Pry’s defense struggled to shut down the dinks and dunks of the Memphis high-octane spread attack, but just as they’ve done all season, got tough as nails inside the red zone. They forced the Tigers to make good on a Bowl-record six field goals, which ultimately wasn’t good enough to overtake Penn State. Yetur Gross-Matos made the most of his final game as a Nittany Lion as he racked up one and a half sacks and three tackles for loss. Rob Winsor, PJ Mustifer, and Jayson Oweh each had a sack and Marquis Wilson snagged an interception that snuffed out a drive with under four minutes to go, but it was Garrett Taylor’s pick-six as Penn State clung to a 38-36 lead that proved to be the backbreaker that tamed the Tigers once and for all.
Tyler Bowen gets major credit for hanging 53 points on the board in his one-game stint as interim OC, and James Franklin may have become the first coach in history to flip the script on the obligatory Gatorade bath by putting Cam Brown on the turf with a textbook form tackle. This win wasn’t perfect but now is not the time to nit-pick over the small stuff. With 11 wins for the third time in four years and a Cotton Bowl trophy to add to the mantle (the first since 1974 mind you), it’s more than enough to revel in the glow as we all decompress from another rough and tumble football season. It’s been said this team exceeded all expectations, but I say stay tuned, we’re only at the start of our journey!