The Cotton Bowl has been very good to the Memphis Tigers. The Tigers, along with Penn State’s Nittany Lions, have been treated like first-class citizens all week long. It’s was the biggest stage that most of the Tigers will ever play on.
But Penn State’s running game was just too much for Memphis, and the Nittany Lions went on to a 53-39 win before 54,848 fans in Dallas.
Memphis got off to the early lead. After stopping Penn State on their opening possession, Memphis had a drive that seam very promising, but they only managed to get a field goal out of it. The Tigers took the early lead (3-0).
Brady White had 454 passing yards and two interceptions. The total yards pushed White past 4,000 yards for the season (4,014).
Damonte Coxie had another stellar game with 132 receiving yards. Antonio Gibson ended his career with 99 receiving yards and Kenny Gainwell added 78 receiving yards.
White had a rushing touchdown. He almost scored on a pass from Kedarian Jones. Jones found a wide-open White after receiving the football on a reverse for 25 yards, but White was stopped just short of the goal line. White scored one play later.
But Penn State did not allow the vaunted Tiger running game to get any type of traction. The Tigers only rushed for 63 yards. Micah Parsons had a lot to do with that.
The All-American from Penn State had 14 total tackles and seven solo tackles. He also had two sacks and two forced fumbles. The Penn State defense had six total sacks.
Penn State used its explosive running game to keep the Tigers at arm’s length. Journey Brown had 202 rushing yards on only 16 attempts and scored two touchdowns. The Nittany Lions had 396 total rushing yards.
Patrick Taylor was held to only 50 yards rushing and Gainwell was also contained and finished with just 38 rushing yards. Each player scored a touchdown.
The play of the game that hurt the Tigers was a interception White had while under pressure. Trailing 38-36 with 38 seconds remaining in the third, momentum shifted back in favor of the Nittany Lions after a 15-yard pick-six by Garret Taylor.
Patterson’s sixth field goal of the contest pulled the Tigers back within a score, 45-39, with 12:01 remaining, but it proved to be the final time Memphis put points on the board.
White became the fourth quarterback in program history to throw for over 7,000 yards in his career as well as only the second quarterback (Riley Ferguson, 2017) to throw for 4,000 yards in a single-season. But he was dismissive of the accomplishments after the game.
“I don’t care about performances. I know you’ve heard this before from me, but I care about wins,” White said after the game. “And we didn’t get that today.
“So I’m frustrated, but I’m glad with the information just provided me,” White added. “Woo-hoo, awesome job. But I want championships. I want wins.”
The 92 combined points scored were the most points scored ever in the Cotton Bowl.
“This was a team that we knew was going to come into this game confident and expecting to win. That’s their mentality,” said Penn State head coach James Franklin. “I’ve read a lot of ‘Memphis against the world’ and all those guys coming in with a chip on their shoulder, expecting to win the game, and they played like that (today).”
Tiger’s head coach Ryan Silverfield was coaching in his first game ever as a head coach.
“I wasn’t happy with the end result. We’ll never be satisfied with losses,” Silverfield said. “Like I just got done telling the young men in the locker room, they battled. They gave it every single thing they had every play for the entire 60 minutes and didn’t once have any fret, fear. They fought and I’m proud of that.”
Riley Patterson made six field goals and converted on three PATs to score a school and Cotton Bowl record 21 points kicking. His 51-yard field goal was also a Cotton Bowl record and the six made field goals were the most made in NCAA bowl history.
“Obviously, I’m very blessed to be in a position to kick field goals for this football team,” Patterson said after the loss. “I’ve had such a good season kicking field goals and God has blessed me with that opportunity. I have a great snapper, great holder, Preston Brady, the holder of the year. And our special teams have been dominant all season, and I think that’s one of the backbones of this football team.
“I’m really proud of all the guys on every other phases of special teams and was glad we were able to perform today,” Patterson said.
Earlier in the week, White hinted that this may be his last college game, but he remains undecided for now. White has already completed his master’s degree program and he is weighing whether he should enter the NFL Draft. White has one year of eligibility remaining.
After the game the Tigers had two additional losses. Defensive back coach TJ Rushing and tight ends coach Tony Tokarz left the staff to take the same position at Florida State under former head coach Mike Norvell.
The Tigers finish the season with a (12-2) record. They won their first-ever American Athletic Conference sole championship title. They scored the most wins ever in a season and the senior class had the most wins ever.
“I told our guys, Hold your heads up high. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished,” Silverfield said, when asked to reflect on the season. “Obviously, we have got a bad taste in our mouth right now. I don’t want anybody getting on our plane with their eyes down not being proud of what they are. They all battled.
“At the end of the day, I can lay my head down tonight to rest knowing our guys went out there and fought.”