ARLINGTON, Texas –– Micah Parsons woke up Saturday morning, saw the weather forecast, and sent a text message to his parents: “The storm is coming.”
He might have been referring to the constant rain outside AT&T Stadium, or to the impact he was about to have in Penn State’s 53-39 win over Memphis in the Cotton Bowl.
Parsons capped his All-American season with a performance that he called the best of his career. The sophomore linebacker had 14 tackles, two sacks, three tackles for losses, two pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and one quarterback hurry, earning defensive MVP honors in the process.
“This was another level,” Parsons said of his play.
The Penn State defense allowed 454 yards through the air, which is the second-most passing yards in Cotton Bowl history, and 63 on the ground. It was the first time the Nittany Lions allowed more than 500 yards of total offense in a game this season. Even Big Ten champion Ohio State managed just 417 yards.
The Penn State offense put up 53 points and more than 500 yards of offense. But with all those fireworks in the home of the Dallas Cowboys, it was Parsons who was arguably the best player on the field.
“Micah makes plays that people aren’t supposed to make,” tight end Pat Freiermuth said after the win.
The first of many of those plays came early in the first quarter, when Memphis tried to run a reverse. Parsons was there to blow up the play for a big loss.
Of all of Parson’s highlight-reel plays, he said that one was his favorite, and it woke him up.
But his game-changing play came late in the third quarter, when the Nittany Lions were clinging to a two-point lead. On third-and-8, he blitzed Memphis quarterback Brady White and got in untouched. White tossed the ball to avoid the sack, but senior safety Garrett Taylor intercepted it and returned it for a touchdown.
The stat sheet credited Parsons with a quarterback hurry, but the touchdown wouldn’t have happened without Parsons. In fact, none of what happened Saturday would have happened without Parsons. Who knows how many more yards the Tigers would have accumulated if No. 11 in blue wasn’t out there.
Parsons wasn’t surprised by his performance. All week leading up to the game, he told defensive coordinator Brent Pry that he was going to win the defensive MVP trophy.
“That’s the type of mindset I have,” Parsons said. “You’ve got to know before it happens. You can’t be surprised. You’ve got to know it’s your moment. When you’re on the biggest stage, it’s not time to crumble, it’s time to shine.”
After a record-setting sophomore season, what’s next for Parsons? The Heisman Trophy? He seems to think there’s a chance.
“I think the door is open because of guys like Chase Young,” Parsons said of the Ohio State defensive end and Heisman finalist. “With a lot of hard work, I’ve got a chance to do it. Just being able to get to the table would be an extreme honor and a huge blessing for me and the program.”
But Parsons wouldn’t pinpoint one aspect of his game or one thing he needs to do to be a finalist in New York next December.
“It’s just following God’s plan,” Parsons said. “I always tell people, ‘You can’t go out of your way to make the play, you’ve got to let the play come to you.’ That’s what I do. You can’t force things to happen. If it’s in God’s will, it’s in God’s will.”
He sounded nothing like the kid from Harrisburg who showed up to Happy Valley nearly two years ago. He has matured and realizes his goal isn’t to try to be like the players who came before him. He’s just trying to be Micah Parsons, and he’s certainly creating a legacy already.
“You don’t live by the standard," Parsons said. "You set the standard.”