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Position Grades: Memphis

In which we grade your 2019 Cotton Bowl champs’ performance.

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl Classic-Memphis vs Penn State Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Yet another Penn State football season come and gone in seemingly a flash. “Flash” is also the perfect word to describe how certain positions played in today’s Cotton Bowl victory over Memphis. So, for the final time in 2019, and for the final time this decade: Here are your position grades.

Quarterback: C+

Sean Clifford’s first game action in five weeks was far from his greatest, hitting on 11 of his 20 passing attempts for 133 yards, a touchdown, and an interception that was thrown in a critical portion of the game that could have given Memphis back the lead. He was also sacked four times, although some of that is on his offensive line not blocking well. He did have a few big runs to move the chains, per usual.

Running Back: A+++

In the spirit of Ralphie’s teacher in A Christmas Story, we’re handing out the best possible grade to the running backs. Three different members of the #LawnBoyz reached the end zone in Journey Brown, Noah Cain, and Devyn Ford. Brown was easily the offensive MVP, with his 16 carries for 202 yards and a pair of TD’s, and Cain was also lethal, adding 92 yards on 15 carries and a pair of TD’s, himself, and helping to chew some precious clock late in the game with PSU nursing the lead. Shout-out to Ricky Slade, who also ripped off a critical 44-yard run.

Wide Receiver/Tight End: B

KJ Hamler and Pat Freiermuth didn’t haul in as many catches as usual, but when they did, they sure did a good job picking up critical yards after the catch. Jahan Dotson caught the lone receiving TD on a well-executed pick play by Freiermuth. The tight ends also played an important role in run-blocking.

Offensive Line: B-

The pass blocking was horrendous, as the O-line didn’t give Clifford much time to throw, but boy, did they do a tremendous of a job opening up running lanes, a big reason why PSU as a team hit 396 yards rushing. Will Fries did have a couple of costly holding penalties that forced PSU to kick a field goal instead of likely scoring another TD. Hopefully, one more year in Happy Valley will allow him to correct such mistakes.

Defensive Line: B+

They didn’t get home about seemingly half the time, but the defensive line was able to generate some semblance of a pass rush, despite the fact Memphis threw for nearly 500 yards in the air. Four of PSU’s six total sacks came from the “Wild Dogs” as Robert Windsor, Yetur Gross-Matos, P.J. Mustipher, and Jayson Oweh each brought down Memphis quarterback Brady White. Furthermore, they were able to help hold Memphis’ ground game relatively in check.

Linebacker: A

Micah Parsons: Beast. The newly-minted All-American racked up a team-high 14 tackles, including two sacks, two forced fumbles, and a pair of pass break-ups, one of which probably should’ve been a pick-six. His performance alone gets the linebackers an A grade. It’s hard not to get giddy thinking about next year’s front seven with Micah leading the way. Cam Brown racked up three tackles and a pass break-up and Jan Johnson had four tackles in their respective final games in PSU uniforms, while Ellis Brooks added four tackles, himself.

Secondary: C

Yes, they got torched quite a bit by the Memphis passing attack, and the safety play was downright infuriating to watch. However, to their credit, they pulled off the ultimate Bend-But-Don’t-Suck by continually holding Memphis to field goals, forcing the Tigers to settle for six of them, compared to only three touchdowns.

Furthermore, Garrett Taylor came up with a clutch pick-six with PSU clinging to a 38-36 lead and having just failed on a fourth-and-one conversion, while Marquis Wilson had the back-breaking interception near the goal line with over four minutes left and Memphis attempting to cut into the 53-39 lead. PSU was able to run out the clock following Wilson’s pick.

Special Teams: A

Jake Pinegar was perfect on extra points and nailed his lone field goal attempt from 45 yards, while Jordan Stout put all but one of his nine kickoffs into the end zone for a touchback, not allowing Memphis’ dangerous return game a chance to flourish. Meanwhile, Blake Gillikin’s final performance as PSU’s punter was a solid one, averaging 45 yards on his three punts, including a long of 59 yards and pinning the Tigers inside their own red zone twice.