(Submitted Photo/Memphis Athletics)
Memphis to meet Penn State in Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
The No. 17 Memphis Tigers will conclude their season Saturday in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, against No. 10 Penn State.
Memphis (12-1 overall, 7-1 in the American Athletic Conference) enters the 11 a.m. contest, which will be aired on ESPN, having won seven straight games since its lone loss of the season, a 30-28 setback to Temple in mid-October.
The Tigers feature a local connection in redshirt junior linebacker Nehemiah Augustus, a former Patterson High standout. Augustus has played in 11 games this season and has four tackles (three solo and one assist).
As a team, Memphis is led by its offense. The Tigers are No. 8 in Football Bowl Subdivision in scoring, averaging 40.5 points per game, while the squad is averaging 480.7 yards per game of total offense, which ranks No. 10 nationally.
The Tigers pass game, which averages 284.5 passing yards per contest, is ranked No. 26 in Division 1.
Redshirt junior quarterback Brady White leads the offense as he has completed 237 of 369 pass attempts for 3,560 yards with 33 touchdowns and nine interceptions. White also has three rushing touchdowns. The Manning Award finalist is tied for No. 7 nationally in passing touchdowns and is ranked No. 12 in passing yards.
Redshirt junior Damonte Coxie is the team’s leading receiver with 68 catches for 1,144 yards and nine touchdowns, while senior wide receiver Antonio Gibson has hauled in 32 passes for 636 yards and eight touchdowns for the Tigers. Coxie is ranked No. 15 nationally in receiving yards, and he is tied for No. 29 in touchdown receptions. Gibson is tied for No. 36 in touchdown receptions and is tied for No. 31 in total touchdowns with 13 this season.
The Tigers’ ground game is led by freshman running back Kenneth Gainwell, who is a semifinalist for the Football Writers Association of America Shaun Alexander Freshman Player of the Year Award as well as a second-team Sporting News All-American selection.
Gainwell is the team’s leading rusher with 222 carries for 1,425 yards and 12 touchdowns. He is No. 9 in FBS with 1,425 yards, is tied for No. 21 in rushing touchdowns with 12 and is tied for No. 23 nationally in total touchdowns with 15.
Gainwell was named the American Athletic Conference’s Rookie of the Year.
As a team, Memphis is averaging 196.2 rushing yards per contest.
Defensively, Memphis is surrendering 24.4 points per game and 372.3 yards per game.
Senior linebacker Austin Hall is the team’s top tackler with 69 stops (39 solo and 30 assists). He has nine tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, one interception, six pass breakups, three quarterback hurries and two fumble recoveries.
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Xavier “Zay” Cullens is second on the team with 63 tackles (43 solo and 20 assists). He has 2.5 tackles for loss, one interception, three pass breakups and two quarterback hurries.
Senior defensive end Bryce Huff leads the team in tackles for loss and sacks with 15 and six, respectively. Redshirt junior defensive lineman Joseph Dorceus has 14.5 tackles for loss for Memphis.
Redshirt freshman defensive back Quindell Johnson and redshirt sophomore defensive back Sanchez Blake Jr. each have two interceptions to lead the team, while redshirt junior defensive back Jacobi Francis leads the team with eight pass breakups. Junior defensive back T.J. Carter has broken up seven passes for the Tigers, too.
On special teams, Gibson was named the American Athletic Conference’s co-Special Teams Player of the year. He ranks No. 5 in FBS, averaging 28.8 yards per kickoff return.
Junior kicker Riley Patterson, a first-team American Athletic Conference selection, is 60-for-61 in point-after attempts this season and made 12 of 14 field goal attempts.
On the opposing sideline, Penn State (10-2 overall, 7-2 in the Big 10 Conference) enters the contest after falling just twice this season with losses to Minnesota and Ohio State.
The Nittany Lions are led by their defense, which surrenders just 14.1 points per game and 97.7 rushing yards per contest. The scoring output allowed ranks No. 7 in FBS, while the rushing yards allowed per game ranks No. 5 nationally.
In all, Penn State is allowing 330.2 yards per game, which ranks No. 24 nationally.
Sophomore linebacker Micah Parsons, a consensus All-American, leads the defense with 95 tackles (45 solo and 50 assists). He has 11 tackles for loss, three sacks, three pass breakups, three quarterback hurries, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles.
Parsons earned All-American honors from five different entities, including first-team recognition from the Associated Press and the American Football Coaches Association.
Junior defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos, a first-team All-Big Ten selection, leads the team in tackles for loss and sacks with 14 and 8.5, respectively.
Junior cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields leads the team with eight pass breakups, while redshirt senior John Reid has seven. Reid, Castro-Fields and junior safety Jaquan Brisker each are tied for the team lead with two interceptions.
Offensively, Penn State is averaging 34.3 points per game and 402.2 yards of offense per contest. The Nittany Lions are ranked No. 22 in FBS in scoring offense.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Sean Clifford leads the offense as he has completed 178 of 299 pass attempts for 2,521 yards with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. Clifford’s passing touchdowns rank No. 32 nationally.
He also has rushed 103 times for 374 yards with five touchdowns.
Redshirt sophomore KJ Hamler is the team’s leading receiver with 54 receptions for 858 yards and eight touchdowns. His receiving touchdown total is tied for No. 36 nationally.
Sophomore Pat Freiermuth, a second-team All-American selection by the American Football coaches Association, has 41 catches for 468 yards and seven touchdowns this year.
Penn State’s leading rusher is redshirt sophomore Journey Brown, who has 113 carries for 688 yards and 10 touchdowns. Freshman Noah Cain also has six rushing touchdowns for the Nittany Lions.