By Terry Davis, The New Tri-State Defender
The Memphis Tigers arrived in Dallas for the Cotton Bowl on Sunday – and they arrived in style.
The team had new Cotton Bowl warmups on as they boarded the plane. After the flight, the team was picked up in buses specially wrapped in Tiger blue and grey, with player images on them.
There have been many festivities leading up to Saturday’s game, and there will be more. With so much going on, the winner of the game may just boil down to which team is more focused.
Focus, Focus and Focus
Memphis has been toeing the company line all season – that is, just staying focused on the next game – despite knowing early in the season that if they took care of business, they could end up in the Cotton Bowl.
Quarterback Brady White has even broken it down further, saying he is more concern about one play at a time. White has had his best year as Tiger, throwing for 3,560 yards and 33 touchdowns this season. White has been a finalist in many passing award honors this season.
“We will never take the approach of just being happy to being there,” Silverfield said about the Tigers making the Cotton Bowl, “We have a mindset and purpose of going in there and winning the game. We have a sense of urgency in everything we are going to do.”
Expect the unexpected
After securing the AAC Championship Memphis has lost both its offensive and defensive play-callers. Former coach Mike Norvell called the offensive plays and defensive specialist Adam Fuller left to join Norvell at Florida State.
Penn State also lost its offensive coordinator Ricky Rhane, who accepted the head coaching job at Old Dominion. Tight end coach Tyler Bowen will call the plays for Penn State.
With all of the movement in the coaching ranks, it may be hard to determine if the units will be more conservative or overly aggressive. Silverfield has said to expect the unexpected from the offense that Kevin Johns may call. Johns was the offensive coordinator under Norvell, but did not call the plays.
“He has done a fantastic job this year with our quarterbacks this year,” Silverfield said. “If you look at the production of our quarterbacks, he cares about the players and the players cares about him.”
Something has to give
Memphis’ offense is ranked No. 8 in the nation, scoring 40.5 points per game. But they line up against Penn State, who has the No. 7 scoring defense in the nation, holding opponents to 14.10 points per game.
The rushing game for the Tigers sets up everything for the offense. The Tigers are averaging 197.2 yards per game. Kenneth Gainwell has rushed for 1,425 yards and has scored 12 touchdowns. Wide receiver Antonio Gibson has been used as an additional rusher and has been effective because of his size and speed out of the backfield.
Rushing defense is the heart and soul of the Nittany Lions defense. They are fifth in the nation only allowing 97.7 rushing yards per game.
Bits and Pieces
One of the perks of getting to a major bowl is the swag – the gifts teams can receive. But we won’t know for sure what the swag is for this game. The Cotton Bowl does not disclose the gifts that the teams will receive. In the past, it was rumored that some teams received watches and gift cards. Each player will get to keep their game jersey and other things that have a Cotton Bowl focus.
This article originally appeared in the New Tri-State Defender