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The “big boys” on the Penn State offensive line spark an overpowering rushing attack

The unit, which averages more than 322 pounds per man, was praised after a 396-yard performance against Memphis in the Cotton Bowl, including a 202-yard day for Journey Brown.

Penn State running back Journey Brown runs over Memphis defensive back Sanchez Blake Jr., late in the fourth. Center Michal Menet (62) is in the background.
Penn State running back Journey Brown runs over Memphis defensive back Sanchez Blake Jr., late in the fourth. Center Michal Menet (62) is in the background.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

ARLINGTON, Texas – Journey Brown loves his “big boys,” the offensive linemen who had arguably their best game of the season Saturday in Penn State’s 53-39 Cotton Bowl victory, and how physical they were against Memphis.

“We have a quote, ‘Physicality is no greater feeling than moving a man from point A to point B against his will,’ ” Brown said after rushing for a Penn State bowl-record 202 yards and scoring twice on a day when the team piled up 396 yards on the ground.

“We preach that a lot in our room, and I believe in that stuff. It’s real cool just to see the big boys up front take confidence and apply it to the field. Like I said, preparation is a big key to what Penn State football does.”

Offensive line coach Matt Limegrover also loved what the unit, where the starting five average more than 322 pounds, did at AT&T Stadium.

“Anytime you hit those heights and you feel like you were a big reason you put a W on the board, that’s what these guys are made of,” Limegrover said. “I’m just so proud of them. These guys came to work every day.

“With bowl games, sometimes guys get caught up in the wrong things, and the game is almost anticlimactic. They had laser-focus. We kept working on an upward trajectory, and it showed today.”

Brown, who broke Saquon Barkley’s bowl record of 194 rushing yards set in the 2017 Rose Bowl, finished his redshirt sophomore season as Penn State’s leading rusher with 901 yards and a 7.0-yard average per carry.

Playing at high speed

The Memphis offense began the Cotton Bowl with an up-tempo style and explosive plays, while operating at a pace that looked as though it could reach 100 plays in the game.

But the Penn State defense made just enough stops to gain the lead in a 28-point second quarter, and grabbed two interceptions late, one a pick-six by safety Garrett Taylor.

“We played a lot of snaps out there today,” said sophomore linebacker Micah Parsons, named the game’s outstanding defensive player. “It was pretty hectic. We didn’t really practice their tempo. We really didn’t see a lot on film.

“I think the tempo was pretty effective, but I think we held our own, and we were able to get a stop when we needed one, so kudos to the whole defense.”

The Tigers ran 50 plays in the first half and finished with 86, outgaining the Nittany Lions 542 yards to 529. But a three-possession stretch in the second quarter produced a net of minus-8 yards, enabling Penn State to take its largest leads, 28-13 and 35-20.

Reid’s busy day

With the Tigers throwing 53 passes, Lions cornerback John Reid found himself quite busy, and he wanted to accept the challenge presented by the opponent’s talented receivers.

When Memphis hit some early passes against a zone defense in the secondary, Reid asked defensive coordinator Brent Pry to play more man-to-man.

“I told Coach Pry I like to play man-to-man,” said Reid, the St. Joseph’s Prep graduate playing in his final game for the Lions. “Just put me in man-to-man. He gave me those opportunities. I’m a man-to-man guy. I like pressing people. He really gave me that chance and let me take those opportunities to press dudes and play in their face.”

Praise for Bowen

Tight-ends coach Tyler Bowen called the plays for the game, and Franklin liked what he saw.

“I thought he called a good game,” Franklin said. “A few drives, I thought we got away from the run. But besides that, I thought he did an excellent job. And I'm very, very proud of him.

“We put up big numbers in the run game. I thought we could be a little more efficient in the pass game, but that wasn’t necessarily the way we called the game. Early on, we missed some easy throws, and then we also had some drops. So, it was hard to get the passing game going the way we wanted it to. And then it was also hard not to keep calling the run, as much success as we were having with it.”