Cotton Bowl: 3 Nittany Lions to Watch

By Barry Leonard on December 27, 2019 at 8:40 am
Penn State Safety Lamont Wade
© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

After nearly four weeks of waiting, Penn State football is about ready to get back on the field. The Nittany Lions close out their season with a battle against the Memphis Tigers in the Cotton Bowl.

A 10-win regular season earned the Nittany Lions a berth in a New Year's Six game. 

While the opponent may not be a big name in college football circles, don't sleep on the Tigers. Penn State is going to have to be ready for the potent Memphis offense, and this one could come down to which defense is able to step up in key situations. 

Penn State will need a total team effort in order to come out with the win, but keep a close eye on the following three Nittany Lions. 

LB Micah Parsons 

Everybody knew that Micah Parsons had the potential to be a star in college and beyond. That's why he was one of the top recruits coming out of the 2018 class. After a successful freshman campaign last year, Parsons took it to a new level in 2019. 

He led the Nittany Lions during the regular season with 95 total tackles and also recorded three sacks. Those numbers helped Parsons earn many honors after the regular season, including being named a consensus All-American

Facing Memphis in the Cotton Bowl, the Penn State defense will be tested by a high-powered offense. Parsons will need to be on the top of his game in order to help contain the Tigers. 

WR KJ Hamler 

Although Penn State fans don't want to think about this, the Cotton Bowl could be the last as a Nittany Lion for KJ Hamler. The speedy wide receiver/return man is eligible to declare for the NFL Draft, but won't make his decision until after the game. 

In the meantime, Penn State will need Hamler to shine in the Cotton Bowl. He is by far the most dangerous player on the field and can break a big play anytime he touches the ball. From making a big play down the field, to setting up great field position on a kickoff, Hamler can do it all. 

It will be interesting to see if interim offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen has any special designs for Hamler that we haven't seen yet. 

The Penn State Secondary 

I'm lumping the entire defensive backfield into this one, as the group is sure to be busy on Saturday. Memphis enters as one of the top passing offenses in the nation, so look for the Tigers to throw the ball early and often. 

Penn State's secondary really struggled in the second half of the season and had trouble stopping some very good passing attacks. That doesn't bode well for the matchup with the Tigers. 

Memphis enters the Cotton Bowl averaging over 284 passing yards per game. Quarterback Brady White threw for over 3,500 yards with 33 touchdowns to nine interceptions. His favorite target was wide receiver Damonte Coxie, who finished the regular season with 1,144 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. 

The Penn State secondary needs to be ready for this game, especially cornerbacks John Reid and Tariq Castro-Fields. Keep an eye on the group to see how it stands up to the tough Memphis passing attack. 

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