Micah Parsons was everywhere on Saturday for the Lions. He led the team with 14 tackles, had 2 sacks, 3 tackles for loss, 2 passes broken up and 2 forced fumbles. He could have had an interception to go with it but he was unable to hang on to the ball. Parsons will be a leader for the team next season as several memorable seniors depart after the Cotton Bowl win.
The offense did enough to build a lead but at the end of the game it was the defense that saved the day. Overall it was a better effort by the Penn State defense than the 39 points allowed indicates. Memphis had a solid offense and made a handful of plays that would have been hard to stop for any defense.
By the end of the game there were so many big plays that the run by Journey Brown in the first quarter may have been overlooked. Not only was the run long, good for 32 yards, but Brown fought hard to get into the end zone. Brown finished with 202 yards on the day.
Notice that he used power and balance to break the first tackle, not the speed that he is better known for. Brown just shrugged the first guy off. Check out his use of the stiff arm while still running extremely fast after the impact. The finish to the run brings back memories of many great Penn State backs. The best thing is that Brown is just now hitting his stride with two more seasons of eligibility remaining.
If you watch his feet from the time the hits begin it’s pretty amazing. Brown’s upper-body work is being done to keep players away from his legs and feet. He shuffled his feet a couple of times to keep them apart, leaned his torso away from a player, then finally jumped a body to keep his left leg clean. All while moving so fast that pursuit could not catch him from behind.
With less than a minute to play in the third quarter, coach Franklin chose to try to gain the yardage on 4th and short while the team was within range of a field goal, holding just a two point lead. Memphis got the hold, and with it, momentum. For a while, just barely a minute in real time, it seemed like the decision could come back to haunt the Lions.
Instead, on the next play, Micah Parsons made a sack and forced the ball into the air, which Garrett Taylor grabbed and ran into the end zone. Sometimes the best offense is a good defense.
It’s worth noting that on the play, Brent Pry had three underclassmen corner backs on the field. Pry got Keaton Ellis, Marquis Wilson and Trent Gordon some valuable playing time this year, including in the Cotton Bowl during meaningful action. Next season the trio along with Joey Porter Jr. and Donovan Johnson will step in for the team. While Pry will lose some skill in the defensive backfield, the squad may have more depth next year overall since there will be close to ten players with experience returning.
Late in the action with Memphis trying to rally, needing a quick score to cut it to a one possession game, Marquis Wilson came up with a big interception to end the threat and most likely, the game. The reactions caught on camera say it all. Watch as the shot pans from cheerful defensive coordinator Brent Pry, to Memphis fans, back to Wilson (8) celebrating with his team, then to shocked Memphis fans.
It would have been a tight finish had Wilson not been able to come up with the interception. Instead the Lions got to celebrate a little early.
Take a look at Cam Brown sneaking up on coach Franklin. Sure, Brown got a partial Gatorade shower on his coach, but Franklin immediately returned fire with a perfect form tackle. He drove with his feet until Brown was on the turf, just like they coach it. Not bad for a former quarterback.
Notice that the other guy holding the bucket was big No. 69 C.J. Thorpe. Franklin made the correct read in going after Brown rather than grabbing for the two tree trunks that Thorpe calls his legs.
It was a great season for the program and its fans. It was nice to see the team having fun at the end. The community had a lot to celebrate throughout the year as well, an 11-win season is easy to enjoy. With the long off-season now begun it is nice to know that when the team takes the field next fall, it should be poised to make a run at a national title.
- Daniel George got the start at wide receiver and there was hope that he would have a breakout game. It didn’t materialize for him, as he struggled early with 2 drops on the first 3 passes thrown his way. His first catch was negated by a penalty and well into the third quarter it looked like it would be a disappointing day for him. George then caught two passes on one drive. He held on and ran for a first down after the second catch, showing a flash of what he might bring as a redshirt sophomore next season. He finished on a high note and the experience will be helpful for the 6-foot-2, 220 pound target.
- The offensive line played great, opening holes for the backs to the tune of 396 rushing yards. It was a solid season for the offensive line, headed by coach Matt Limegrover. Coach Limegrover was the focus of some ire in recent years as the line was seen to have under-performed. This year his group was a strength of the team, as they were on Saturday. Next season the talent level and experience will be better than this year so there’s reason to believe that the unit won’t just be adequate, but dominant next season.
- Tight end coach Tyler Bowen did a nice job calling plays for the departed Ricky Rahne. Bowen is seen as a potential hire at the spot in the future. Considering that the typical stay at offensive coordinator under Franklin has been two years, Bowen may not have to wait too long for his shot. Rahne called plays at the TaxSlayer Bowl before Joe Moorhead came in for the next two years. We may see a replay of that if the short-term stays at offensive coordinator continue. Bowen is just 30 years old and it would not be a surprise if he were a coordinator and then a coach at the D1 level by the time he is 40.
- Blake Gillikin finished with 3 punts for an average of 45.3 yards. It was his final game as a Lion after being a mainstay for four years. Gillikin averaged over 43 yards per punt during his career, coming in at a time that the program had no punter on scholarship and the unit was unreliable. The 4 years before Gillikin arrived on campus no punter averaged as many as 40 yards per kick. There shouldn’t be a major drop-off next year, back to the levels before he came to campus, but Gillikin bridged a gap for the program that is sometimes overlooked.