The most successful season in Memphis football history came to a close Saturday afternoon in the 84th Cotton Bowl at Arlington, Texas. The 13th-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions forced a pair of critical second-half turnovers to secure victory in the highest-scoring game in the history of the event. Ryan Silverfield made his debut as head coach for the Tigers, three weeks after Mike Norvell departed for Florida State. The loss is the Tigers' fifth straight in a bowl game and ends a seven-game winning streak.
Memphis (12-2) came up short despite 454 passing yards by Brady White
, 132 of them to Damonte Coxie
. All-conference kicker Riley Patterson
set a bowl record with six field goals and established a long-distance mark for the Cotton Bowl with a 51-yard field goal early in the third quarter. (Patterson established a new single-season scoring record among Memphis kickers with 134 points.)
After falling behind, 7-3, the Tigers took the lead on a three-yard Patrick Taylor
touchdown run midway through the first quarter. They extended the lead to 13-7 before Penn State moved back in front on a one-yard run by Noah Cain early in the second quarter. The Nittany Lions scored touchdowns on their next three possessions and led 35-23 at halftime, Memphis staying close courtesy of a touchdown by Kennth Gainwell
and Patterson's third field goal.
A trick play in which White caught a pass from receiver Kedarian Jones
after a reverse led to a touchdown (a sneak by White) on the Tigers' first possession of the third quarter. After an Austin Hall
interception of Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford and the 51-yarder by Patterson, the Tigers found themselves within two points (35-33). The teams exchanged field goals and Memphis held the Nittany Lions on a fourth-down attempt at the Tiger 22-yard line, but Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons forced a White fumble that Garrett Taylor caught in the air and ran 15 yards for a touchdown and a 45-36 lead in the final minute of the third quarter.
Cain ran one yard to complete a 75-yard touchdown drive for the Nittany Lions with 6:37 left in the game that all but clinched the game for Penn State. Marquis Wilson intercepted a White pass inside the Lions' 5-yard line on the Tigers' ensuing possession to end the underdogs' hopes.
The 39 points scored by Memphis are the most Penn State (11-2) allowed all season. But the Nittany Lions dominated the ground game, rushing for 396 yards (202 by junior Journey Brown) and holding Memphis to just 63. The Tigers were just as dominant in the passing game (133 yards for Penn State), but the two White interceptions helped sway the result.
Despite the loss, Memphis should finish in the AP Top 25 for the third time in six seasons.