Penn State vs. Memphis: Goodyear Cotton Bowl fearless prediction and game preview.
Penn State vs. Memphis: Cotton Bowl Broadcast
Penn State (10-2) vs. Memphis (12-1) Game Preview
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Three Reasons Why You Should Watch The Cotton Bowl
– It’s the sixth time the Group of Five champion gets its chance in one of the supposedly big boy New Year’s Six bowl games. Forget for a moment that Notre Dame and Iowa State are going at it at the same time in the Camping World Bowl, it’s the Cotton Bowl. It’s in AT&T Stadium. It’s a big deal as the first of the NY6 games.
The Group of Five is 3-2 so far – representative Western Michigan lost to Wisconsin in the 2017 Cotton – and, as always, it’s an important game to try helping the cause of the supposedly lesser conferences. LSU got the Group of Five champ last year, beat UCF, and did okay this year. Now it’s up to Penn State to try using this as a springboard.
– It’s a bit of a no-win situation for the Power Five program in this. Lose, and … yuck. You lost to the Group of Five program. Win, and … whatever. You beat the Group of Five program.
Penn State might be a wee bit ticked that it’s not in Pasadena for the Rose Bowl, but the program is 2-3 in bowls under James Franklin and 2-5 going back to the last few years of the Joe Paterno era. All five bowl games under Franklin have been decided by seven points or fewer.
– And so begins the Ryan Silverfield era at Memphis. Mike Norvell parlayed his success into the Florida State gig, but he was 0-3 in bowls as the Memphis head man. The program is just 1-6 in its last seven bowl games and 2-7 since the 2003 win over North Texas in the New Orleans Bowl.
This might not be the biggest game in the history of the program, but it’s right up there. Win it, go 13-1, and the perception of just how good Memphis football can be – helloooooo, Big 12, are you there? – might change.
CFN Podcast: Cotton Bowl discussion, picks
Why Penn State Will Win
– Memphis, welcome to the Penn State defense. The Tigers were able to survive in the opener against the Ole Miss D, and Cincinnati, Navy and Temple are tough, but Penn State is seventh in the nation overall with a brick wall of a run D and a phenomenal pass rush that rolls in waves.
Star playmaking end Yetur Gross-Matos is leaving early for the NFL, but he’ll play in the bowl after leading the team with 8.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. The Memphis offensive line has been okay in pass protection, but it’s nothing special, and it’s a disaster keeping quick, penetrating defensive fronts from generating tackles for loss. The Nittany Lions will come up with at least ten plays behind the line.
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– Does Memphis have any hopes of getting the ground attack going? It should be able to throw a bit on the Nittany Lion secondary, but the O is used to balancing things out a wee bit with around 200 yards per game to set up the big plays through the air.
Ohio State ran for 229 yards on the Nittany Lions. No one else got to 200, and the only other teams that got close did it in blowout losses. Penn State allowed just 2.6 yards per carry, and Memphis is used to averaging about five yards per pop.
– Just how much will some of the details and the smaller things matter after the coaching change? Penn State is air-tight when it comes to getting penalized, getting flaked just 4.6 times per game – among the best in the country. There aren’t many problems with turnovers, and when the O gets a chance inside the red zone, there will be points.
Memphis has one of the nation’s worst red zone defenses – giving up points 91% of the time – and gets hammered by flags, sinning well over seven times per game for 95 yards.
Why Memphis Will Win
– Penn State’s defense might be terrific, but good luck handling the Memphis receivers. The Nittany Lions were torched by Minnesota’s tremendous NFL-caliber targets, and were ripped up by Indiana a week later. Justin Fields hit 73% of his throws in Ohio State’s win, and Michigan’s Shea Patterson and Iowa’s Nate Stanley each threw for over 275 yards.
Memphis has the next-level targets who can hit home runs from anywhere on the field. As long as QB Brady White gets a little bit of time, Damonte Coxie, Antonio Gibson, and Kedarian Jones should be able to stretch the field and take the Nittany Lions out of their comfort zone. Memphis threw for over 200 yards in every game except two – it’ll get well over 200.
– Brady White might not be Justin Fields, but he’s among the best passers Penn State has faced all year. He averages 9.6 yards per throw with 33 touchdowns and nine picks, led the team to the American Athletic title, and he’s got the timing of the quick-paced offense down.
Penn State gave up multiple touchdown passes just twice this season – and lost both games. White threw for two or more touchdowns in every game but the opener against Ole Miss and in the AAC Championship against Cincinnati, and won both.
– The Penn State offense isn’t anything special. It’s shown a few flashes here and there, but it stalled way too often against the better teams and it’s not consistent enough. It moved just fine against Minnesota with a slew of midrange passes, but the O failed to hit the 300-yard mark three times in the final seven games – coming up with just 227 against Ohio State – an only rolled past 400 four times on the year. Three of those games were early on against Idaho, Maryland and Purdue teams that failed to go bowling.
By the way, Memphis averages 480 yards per game, but …