Arlington, Texas — All-America linebacker Micah Parsons led the big blitz for Penn State, and he had Brady White all wrapped up when the Memphis quarterback suddenly flipped away the ball — right into the hands of Garrett Taylor.
On a day when the Nittany Lions’ defense gave up its most points and yards all season, Taylor turned that gift into a 15-yard interception return for a touchdown in a 53-39 victory over the Group of Five Tigers on Saturday in the highest-scoring Cotton Bowl ever.
“A huge momentum shift,” Taylor said.
Journey Brown ran for 202 yards with two long touchdowns, but the Parsons-created pick-six came three plays after Brown was stopped short on a fourth-and-1. Taylor put the Nittany Lions (11-2, No. 10 CFP) up 45-36 going into the fourth quarter.
“For our defense to come back and what you probably consider a sudden-change situation, and be able to get that play, I think it was a huge momentum play,” coach James Franklin said.
Said Parsons: “The game was going back and forth, and I thought the team who had a defensive turnover would win, and we got one when we needed.”
Brown was the offensive MVP and Parsons, with 14 tackles and two sacks, was the game’s top defensive player. Both had gone back and forth about that possibility during practice this week.
American Athletic Conference champion Memphis (12-2, No. 17 CFP) played its first game under coach Ryan Silverfield. The offensive line coach was promoted when Mike Norvell left after four seasons to become Florida State’s coach earlier this month.
“It just didn’t end the way we wanted to,” Silverfield said. “I have to do a better job as a head coach to make sure all three phases are prepared. That’s 100% on me. That won’t happen moving forward.”
White was 32-of-51 passing for 454 yards with two interceptions. He had a rushing touchdown, as did Patrick Taylor Jr. and Kenneth Gainwell. The rest of the Tigers’ points came on a Cotton Bowl-record six field goals by Riley Patterson, including a record-long 51-yarder.
“I don’t care about performances … but I care about wins,” White said. “I want championships, I want wins.”
The Tigers, who set a school record for victories while winning their first outright conference title since 1969, finished with 542 total yards. But White was sacked a season-high six times and didn’t throw a touchdown for the first time since the season opener.
“We go against him all the time … nobody prepares and prepares for those opportunities and those moments more than this guy does,” Brown said of Parsons, who was sitting right by him.
Freshman running back Noah Cain added 92 yards and two touchdowns rushing for Penn State, which won for the 30th time in its 50 bowl appearances.
The Nittany Lions had 529 total yards. Brown got his 202 rushing yards on 16 carries, including a tackle-shredding 32-yard touchdown early and a 56-yard score when he went up the middle virtually untouched.
Camping World Bowl
No. 14 Notre Dame 33, Iowa State 9: So much for the notion that No. 14 Notre Dame didn’t have anything to play for in the Camping World Bowl.
A year removed from an appearance in the CFP national semifinals, the Fighting Irish closed out another double-digit win season with arguably their best all-around performance in a victory over Iowa State.
“I’m just so proud of our football team. 2019 will be one that I’ll always remember, for a group of guys that just loved to play the game. They had such a strong brotherhood,” coach Brian Kelly said.
“They did not listen to what the naysayers had to say about them. The negative tone, the negative people out there. All they cared about was playing the game,” Kelly added. “It was clean. It was about competing. Always looking to better themselves.”
Ian Book threw for 247 yards and a touchdown, Tony Jones Jr. scored on an 84-yard run and game MVP Chase Claypool had seven receptions for 146 yards and a TD for the Irish (11-2, No. 15 CFP), who finished on a six-game winning streak after losing to Michigan to tumble out of contention for a playoff berth in late October.
Notre Dame also lost to Georgia in September; however, Kelly said the team remained focused and continued to focus and get better.
“Even this week. ‘Notre Dame is not ready to play.’ They used that as another form of motivation to show people wrong, They just read this team wrong,” Kelly said. “It’s just so satisfying that this group has been rewarded with 11 wins. … They overcame adversity, lived the life lessons of it. They’re not perfect. They never pretended to be perfect and never wanted to be, but always strived for excellence.”
Book completed 20 of 28 passes without an interception, including a 27-yard TD throw to Claypool, who went over 1,000 yards receiving for the season and also recovered a fumble on special teams to set up an early field goal.
Iowa State (7-6) lost to four ranked teams — Iowa, Oklahoma, Baylor and Oklahoma State — by a combined 11 points this season and was hoping to end its fourth season under Matt Campbell with a signature win for a once-downtrodden program.
“You know, when we got here … there wasn’t even a thought that we could compete with teams like this. There was no thought that we could compete with the best teams in our conference,” Campbell said. “And, you know, to be quite honest with you, I don’t know if there was a lot of people that thought we could compete with our rival in our own state.”
Brock Purdy was 17 of 30 for 222 yards and no interceptions for the Cyclones, but he was unable to get his team into the end zone after throwing for a school single-season record 27 TDs during the regular season.
The sophomore quarterback left the game in the closing minutes with what Campbell described as a high ankle sprain.
Connor Assalley kicked field goals of 41, 26 and 42 yards .
“I think why you’re so disappointed is because you feel how close you really are to where you want to be,” Campbell said.
“Getting over that hump, taking that next step , that’s a great challenge,” Campbell added. “It’s a great challenge for Iowa State football, but no greater challenge, to be honest with you, that I’d rather tackle than that.”