Linebacker Micah Parsons was sensational for PSU
By CORY GIGER and NEIL RUDEL
For The Express
DALLAS — The scary thing, for Penn State opponents, is that Micah Parsons can only get better.
The consensus first-team All-American put on a show in Saturday’s Cotton Bowl, making one big play after another and dominating about as much as a linebacker can.
Parsons knew he’d play well in the big game. For a strange reason.
“Any time it rains, I know I will have a good gig,” Parsons said.
The game was played indoors, but it was indeed raining outside in Dallas on Saturday.
“So when I started this morning, I texted my mom, my dad and I’m in a group, I said, ‘The storm is coming. This is great.’ And it has been one of the best games in my life.”
Parsons finished with 14 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, forced two fumbles, broke up two passes and had one QB hurry. He was the easy choice for defensive MVP of the game, and he played exactly like an All-American should on the big stage.
Parsons is in just his second year playing linebacker, and defensive coordinator Brent Pry has said several times the young superstar can still get a lot better.
In what areas?
“Fundamentals, still learning the position, work ethic, around the clock,” Pry said after the game Saturday.
Still, Pry also had this to say about his star linebacker:
“You’re going to have to show me somebody going into next football season that’s a better defensive player than Micah Parsons.”
The only thing Parsons’ did wrong on the day was drop a sure interception that hit him right in the hands. He came right back on the next play with a sack.
Bowen calls the shots on offense
Ricky Rahne left to become head coach at Old Dominion, so tight ends coach Tyler Bowen served as interim offensive coordinator for the Cotton Bowl. The Lions already have hired Rahne’s replacement, Kirk Ciarrocco from Minnesota.
Bowen’s playcalling efforts — and Memphis’ poor defense — led to Penn State scoring 53 points while piling up 396 yards rushing and 529 total yards.
“I thought he did a great job,” coach James Franklin said of Bowen. “I was very pleased, kind of more than just today. It’s interesting for me. I’m very proud of Tyler. Tyler played for me as an offensive coordinator, was a graduate assistant for me and kind of worked his way up the ladder. He’s got a very, very bright future, and I’m very, very happy and glad that he’s with us.
“He’s part of my family, and I think he’s got a bright future. So I hope he stays in Happy Valley and with us and with me for a very, very long time. His presence, I thought he did a great job all week of really leading the group. His presence to get up in front of the group and talk about our plan and do it with conviction to get great ideas from everybody in the room and come up with a plan that we had a lot of confidence in.”
Franklin admitted Bowen got away from the run at times, and fans on social media expressed great frustration in that because the passing game was struggling. Still, the overall offensive production was impressive.
“We put up big numbers in the run game,” Franklin said. “I thought we could be a little more efficient in the pass game, but that wasn’t necessarily the way we called the game.”
Cain returns with big game
Running back Noah Cain was very impressive earlier this season before battling some nagging injuries that kept him out of action. He’s now back healthy and had 92 yards rushing and two TDs on 15 carries.
Cain said it was frustrating having to miss time because he was so close to being able to play. But he finished the season on a very high not.
“I think it really helped me out,” Cain said. “Just the past two months have been rough, going going through treatment on trying to get back healthy.”
Taylor gets huge pick-6
Safety Garrett Taylor intercepted a pass from Memphis’ Brady White and returned it 15 yards for a huge touchdown that gave the Lions a 45-36 lead in the fourth quarter.
“We like pick-6s,” Franklin said. “They’re good. They’re good. Obviously, it was at a huge time in the game. If I remember correctly, it was right after we had gone for it on fourth-and-1. We had been running the ball all night long. We make the decision to go for it. Felt like it was the right decision at that point in the game. Didn’t obviously play out that way.
“But then for our defense to come back and what you probably consider sudden-change situation and be able to get that play, I think it was a huge momentum play in the game.”
No word yet on Hamler, others
While some of the Nittany Lions declared for the NFL draft before the Cotton Bowl that they’ll be returning for a final year of eligibility (TE Pat Freiermuth, offensive linemen Michal Menet and Will Fries), some others were holding out until after the game.
Most notable among those is leading receiver KJ Hamler, who remained non-committal afterward, saying he first wanted to speak with James Franklin.
“I still got to talk to Coach,” Hamler told a group of reporters in the Penn State locker room.
Last year, several players announced via Twitter within 24 hours of the Citrus Bowl loss to Kentucky, including Altoona’s Kevin Givens, they were leaving.
Asked for his timetable, Hamler said: “Y’all will see it when you see it.”
If emotions are an indication, Hamler had a long embrace with his father during Penn State’s on-field celebration.
“He sacrificed for me to be in the situation I am now,” Hamler said. “He just told me he’s proud of me, like every father should.”
Hamler caught two passes for 46 yards and rushed twice for 14 yards Saturday. He also returned one kickoff for 24 yards.
Others weighing their options and who haven’t committed either way include defensive end Shaka Toney, who had two tackles Saturday, along with safety Lamont Wade, who had three stops.
Both said they haven’t decided.
Tariq Castro-Fields, who made four tackles against Memphis but struggled in pass defense and lost some snaps to underclassman Marquis Wilson and Trent Gordon, is another possibility.