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Memphis has impressive showing in defeat

DALLAS — How about a tip of the cap — or cowboy hat given where the game was played — to the Memphis Tigers.

To be honest, I thought they were on the verge of getting blown out.

Memphis started out well, but once Penn State figured out it could run at will and grabbed a 28-13 lead, there wasn’t much reason to believe the Tigers could regroup.

This is a team that lost its head coach, Mike Norvell, and defensive coordinator, Adam Fuller, to Florida State a few weeks ago.

A Group of Five team that doesn’t have anywhere near the overall talent that Penn State has.

A team that had begun to fall apart, making mistake after mistake.

It was pretty darn impressive, then, that the Tigers showed a great deal of character and fight in getting right back in the game.

Memphis was down 35-20 before getting a field goal late in the first half — thanks to some odd timeout calls by James Franklin that gave the Tigers some extra time. Memphis then got the ball to start the second half and quickly drove for a touchdown, with the help of a “Philly Special” kind of play with a receiver throwing to the quarterback, who ran to the 1.

The Tigers intercepted Sean Clifford seconds later and took over at the PSU 29. All of a sudden, they had a golden opportunity to take the lead with a touchdown.

P.J. Mustipher’s 9-yard sack on first down was one of the more underrated plays of the game. That essentially killed the Tigers’ drive, and they had to settle for one of their six field goals.

Memphis was still very much in the game and remained that way until late in the fourth quarter, but one has to wonder what might have been had the Tigers taken a 37-35 lead there instead of sitting at 35-33.

Regardless, Memphis did itself proud. The Tigers came in 12-1 and with a chance for the biggest win in program history, and even though they didn’t get it, they clearly proved they belonged in a New Year’s Six bowl game.

New coach Ryan Silverfield, who was promoted after Norvell left, has a whole lot he can build on with his team’s performance.

“Wasn’t happy with the end result. We’ll never be satisfied with losses,” Silverfield said. “Like I just got done telling the young men in the locker room, they battled. They gave it every single thing they had every play for the entire 60 minutes and didn’t once have any fret, fear. They fought, and I’m proud of that.”

Quarterback Brady White is a gamer, man. He reminded me of Trace McSorley, albeit without the running skills. White kept his head up and kept looking downfield to make big plays, and he threw for a whopping 454 yards. Shockingly, he had all those yards but not one TD pass.

Kicker Riley Patterson was fantastic, making all six of his field goal attempts. He finished the season 23-for-25 with a long of 52, and his 51-yarder Saturday. That guy will be in the NFL making big kicks in the coming years.

Patterson even overcame an ankle injury to excel Saturday.

“Our special teams have been dominant all season, and I think that’s one of the back bones of this football team,” Patterson said.

Ultimately, Memphis’ defense just wasn’t very good Saturday and had no answers for Penn State’s running game. That perhaps could have been expected after the defensive coordinator left.

Still, the Tigers proved they weren’t just a fluke team that could put up a bunch of points against lesser opponents. They scored 39 points against Penn State, which is 11 more than Ohio State scored against the Lions.

Very impressive. And congratulations on a strong showing.

Cory Giger can be reached at cgiger@altoonamirror.com.

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