During the second quarter of the Cotton Bowl, Dusty Dvoracek commented that it felt as though there were four Micah Parsons on the field at once. It was the simplest, and most accurate, way to describe the effort of the first-team All-American, who put together a masterclass for the linebacker position. Parsons was everywhere all at once, constantly stymying a prolific Memphis offense from pulling off an all-time victory for the program.
Parsons’ presence was felt on just about every Tigers snap, but perhaps no more than two momentum-shifting plays in each half. The first took place in the opening minutes of the game. After receiving the kickoff, Penn State was forced to punt the ball away following a quick three-and-out. Memphis quickly raced down the field, finding themselves at the Penn State 20. On second-and-10, Parsons immediately diagnosed a reverse, then used his rare explosiveness to get deep in the backfield and take the runner down for a 12-yard loss.
Parsons disciplined play on the reverse halted the Tigers early momentum, preventing them from taking an immediate 7-0 lead. Penn State’s offense would recover on the following drive and go up 7-3 in a game that would later prove each score and momentum-shift as incredibly crucial.
Flash forward to the final minute of the third quarter. Penn State had just failed to convert on a fourth-and-one as they clung on to a 38-36 advantage. It seemed all but inevitable that they would be taking an early fourth quarter.
Parsons simply would not allow it. On third down, he pinned his ears back and used his blinding acceleration to take the long way around unnoticed to catch Tigers quarterback Brady White by surprise. The two-year starter was forced into a quick decision to throw the ball up and try to somehow convert and stay on the field. Instead, the ball went directly to a slew of charging Nittany Lions, with Garrett Taylor plucking the ball out of the air and racing right into the end zone.
It was the type of play that comes with a difference-maker like Parsons, that eventually make the difference between wins and losses in games of this magnitude.
Parsons finished with 14 tackles, two sacks, three TFLs (for a total loss of 27 yards), two forced fumbles, and two pass breakups in his MVP performance.
RB Journey Brown- How did Brown top his stunning end to the season that included three 100 yard games in the final four outings? How about going off for 202 yards and two touchdowns in a NY6 Bowl? Even more impressive, he did it with just 16 carries, good for a 12.3 yard average per carry while finding the end zone twice.
C Michal Menet, G Steven Gonzalez, G C.J. Thorpe- For much of the game, Memphis knew Penn State planned to run the ball straight up the gut of the Tigers defense. Despite this, they were powerless to do anything to stop the #LawnBoyz as they repeatedly tore off big gain after big gain, to the tune of 396 yards rushing on the afternoon. It was the most successful day on the ground in the 50 bowl appearances in program history, largely thanks to these three continually opening up holes and creating lanes for Journey Brown and company to do their thing.