Prediction, Preview, and Odds
#239 Memphis 59 vs.
#240 Penn State -6.5
Saturday, December 28, 2019 at 12:00pm EST
Written by Benjamin Hayes

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#239 University of Memphis
#240 Pennsylvania State University
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This article covers a past game!

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Memphis takes on Penn State in the Cotton Bowl from Arlington, Tx., on Dec. 28 at noon on ESPN. Both teams had great seasons with the Nittany Lions losing just twice this season to Big Ten teams, Minnesota and Ohio State on the road. Memphis won the ACC after beating Cincinnati in the regular season on Nov. 29 and in the title game, 29-24 on Dec. 7.

However, with success comes a price at a non-Power Five school in the Group of Five. Head coach Mike Norvell accepted the head coaching job at Florida State and announced on Dec. 10, that he wouldn't be coaching the Tigers in the Cotton Bowl. He'll be at Florida State to observe their practices and recruit for the program, but won't coach them in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31 against Arizona State. Ryan Silverfield will take over on an interim basis during the bowl game for Memphis.

On Dec. 13, Silverfield was hired as the full-time head coach for the Tigers.

What a season for the Tigers!

Memphis has won seven straight games coming into this bowl game, with their only loss coming against Temple on the road, 30-28. In that game, they allowed 193 rushing yards to the Owls and also turned the ball over five times, but forced four in a very sloppy game.

But looking back at their schedule, Memphis wasn't really tested by their schedule. They did beat Ole Miss to open the season at home, 15-10. The Ole Miss wound up going 4-8 this season and fired their coach Matt Luke and just hired Lane Kiffin. They couldn't help playing a weak schedule in the AAC, facing the likes of Tulane (47-17 win), Tulsa (42-41 win on the road), SMU (54-48 win), USF (49-10), Houston (45-27) and Navy (35-23). They weren't bad teams, but they don't have the talent of most Big 10 programs. Cincinnati was their toughest test and they passed both of them against the No. 20 Bearcats, though both contests were at home.

In the title game, the Tigers needed to come back from a 24-23 deficit when quarterback Brady White hit running back/receiver Antonio Gibson for a six-yard TD with 1:14 left in the game.

Norvell was the playcaller for the past three seasons so Silverfield, as the run-game coordinator might have to call the plays.

"We run the ball quite a bit around here and I've been heavily involved in the run game and our protections," Silverfield said to the Commercial Appeal. "We'll see moving forward if that's the direction we're headed. I feel 100 percent comfortable calling the plays."

Fortunately, Silverfield has a lot of talent to work with. White leads an offense that averages 40.5 points per game (8th), 480.7 yards (8th), 284.5 passing yards (26th) and 196.2 rushing yards (34th). They'll be challenged by a very good Penn State defense.

White has completed 64.1% of his passes for 3,560 yards with 33 TDs and nine picks. Redshirt freshman Kenneth Gainwell is having a monster season with 1,425 rushing yards with 12 TDs (6.4ypc) and 532 receiving yards on 44 catches (3 TDs). Damonte Cox (6-3, 197) leads the Tigers with 68 catches for 1,144 yards and nine scores.

The bigger concern is on defense, where the Tigers allow 372.3 yards per game (50th), 200.7 passing yards (34th) and 171.6 yards on the ground (79th). DE Bryce Huff leads Memphis with six sacks and has two forced fumbles.

Update (12/25): Memphis TE Joe Magnficio will miss this game due to an infection in his knee. He has 20 catches for 335 yards and two scores.

Franklin gets an extension, loses his OC

Head coach James Franklin gained a well-deserved contract extension on Dec. 5, but then lost his offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne, who took the head coaching job at Old Dominion. Rahne did a solid job, coaching the Nittany Lions to the No. 17 offense in the nation according to the SP+ ratings.

Penn State finished as the No. 13 team in the AP Poll and No. 10 in the College Football Playoff selection committee ranked two spots behind No. 8 Wisconsin. The Badgers are headed to the slightly more prestigious Rose Bowl.

“I have never been to the Cotton Bowl,” Franklin said Sunday during a conference call. “I’m looking forward to that opportunity. I’m looking forward to being in Dallas. I’m looking forward to being at Jerry World. I’m looking forward to it all. I think it’s going to be a tremendous opportunity for our fans, not only in Dallas and Texas specifically but also across the country. It’s going to be fantastic.

“There’s always that percentage of fans that may have different opinions on social media and they can be vocal. But I know the great majority of our fans couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity and I know our team feels the same way.”

Penn State looked dominant at times, beating Michigan (28-21), Michigan State (28-7) and Maryland (59-0). But on Nov. 9, the Nittany Lions fell at Minnesota, 31-16 and lose at Ohio State, 28-17 on Nov. 23. Since the Minnesota loss, PSU has not played their best, even in wins over Indiana on Nov. 16 (34-27) and in their last win over Rutgers (27-6) at home.

Quarterback Sean Clifford (2,521 yds, 22 TDs, 6 INTs) missed the Rutgers game due to a leg injury he suffered against Ohio State and backup Will Levis struggled, completing 8-of-14 for just 81 yards with one TD and one pick.

Levis (213 yards, 3 TDs) and Clifford (374 yards, 5 TDs) are both quarterbacks with an ability to run. Redshirt freshman Journey Brown leads Penn State in rushing with 688 yards and 10 TDs. They have a real difference-maker at receiver in K.J. Hamler (4.28 40 time), who has 54 catches for 858 yards with eight TDs.

Overall, the Nittany Lions average 403.7 yards per game on 228.7 passing yards and 175 rushing yards. PSU is a strong defensive squad, ranking 22nd in the nation with 330.5 yards allowed per game and fifth against the run (98 yards per game). Defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos leads the Nittany Lions with eight sacks.

Best Bets for this Game

Full-Game Side Bet

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The only thing keeping this from being a 5* is one factor. Is Penn State disappointed to be in the Cotton Bowl and not playing a little bit later? Ultimately, they are the much better team and their schedule certainly toughened them up for this matchup. They also have the speed on both sides of the ball to deal with the Tigers' explosive players. White is a good AAC quarterback, but he'll be dealing with the best defensive front he's faced all year. Most of the teams, they face, outside of Temple, have mediocre-to-poor defenses. In both games against Cincinnati, they were able to win, but not cover, even in the first game, when the Bearcats were missing their quarterback. Now, throw in the fact that Norvell won't coach this game and was the play-caller and there's no doubt what side to go with -Penn State to cover.

Prediction: Penn State -7

Full-Game Total Pick

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As stated before, Memphis has not faced a defense this good all year long. The Nittany Lions allowed just 28 points to Ohio State and 21 to Michigan. These are teams with outstanding weapons and dominating offensive lines. Even the Tigers started playing better on defense after allowing 48 points to SMU in a win. They went under in three straight games, while PSU went under in their last two. In fact, Penn State opened the season, allowing 13 or fewer points and a combined 39 points in their first six games. Take the under.

Prediction: Under 60.5

Half-Time Side Pick

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Penn State is going to take care of the Tigers very quickly. Franklin will have them ready to play and they should be angry that they are not playing in a New Year's Day bowl. Memphis just lost their top tight end so blocking will be a difficult task against a top defensive team.

Prediction: Penn State -4
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Written By Benjamin Hayes

Ben has been a sports writer for over 30 years, dabbling in college and pro basketball, college and pro football, baseball, college lacrosse, minor league baseball and even college gymnastics. He's also been involved in the gaming industry for over 25 years and has been looking to beat the books since he was 13!