Penn State closed out the season with a New Year’s Six win over the Memphis Tigers in the Cotton Bowl, marking the third time in the last four years James Franklin has led the program to an 11-win season.
It was a season full of memorable moments and some terrific individual plays. So, I took a crack at completing the difficult task of ranking the top 10 plays of the season.
No. 10: Sean Clifford drops a dime to Pat Freiermuth (Michigan State)
This was one of Sean Clifford’s more impressive throws of the season, his first as the starting quarterback. He got the perfect amount of distance and touch on this connection with Freiermuth, all the while he had pressure in his face forcing him to throw off his back foot.
No. 9: Shaka Toney Blocks Field Goal With His Helmet (Michigan State)
This isn’t something you see every day. Penn State’s special teams was vastly improved from a season ago. For Toney, he has grown a lot every season he’s been with the program. When he first saw the field he was more of a pass rush specialist. He’s since developed into a much more well-rounded defensive end that can handle his own against the run and pass. He’s expected to be back next year and will be a key leader for Brent Pry’s defense.
No. 8: Goal-Line Stand Seals Win Over Wolverines (Michigan)
This is a collection of plays rather than one, but it was a huge moment in Penn State’s season. The Nittany Lions defense held their ground with their backs against the wall and preserved a big White Out win over Michigan.
No. 7: John Reid’s Pick Six (Buffalo)
Another game early in the season where the Nittany Lion offense was pretty lifeless in the opening half. John Reid used his terrific football IQ to read the quarterback’s eyes and make a break on the ball. It was the kind of spark Penn State needed to pull away from Buffalo.
No. 6 Pat Freiermuth Runs Over Defensive Back (Memphis)
You’ve undoubtedly heard it before, but yeah, it’s easy to see why Pat Freiermuth is nicknamed “Baby Gronk.” Just flat out levels the defender here. It was a huge boost that he announced his return to the program for 2020. He could have easily been a first round draft pick in the NFL draft in a few months time.
No. 5: Jordan Stout Sets A Record (Pitt)
On a day when the Penn State offense was largely unproductive, Jordan Stout supplied a bit of momentum heading into halftime with this school-record boot. His big leg was a great addition to the special teams unit.
No. 4: Micah Parsons Forces Fumble, Garrett Taylor Scores (Memphis)
Penn State and Memphis continued to go back and forth late into the third quarter in the Cotton Bowl, but this play proved to be a huge momentum shift with the Nittany Lions clinging to a two-point lead. Micah Parsons was all over the field in this game and this play was a great example of why he enters the 2020 season with some Heisman buzz. Also, a big credit to senior Garrett Taylor for being in the right place at the right time to return the ball to the end zone.
No. 3: Nick Eury Plows Into The End Zone (Idaho)
There were more important touchdowns in the grand scheme of Penn State’s season, but there weren’t many as special as this. This was a really cool moment for one of the hardest working players on the team. Nick Eury scored the only touchdown of his career with this tremendous effort. One of the team’s walk-ons, he was later awarded a scholarship in December. It’s what college football is all about.
No. 2: KJ Hamler Outmaneuvers Maryland Defenders (Maryland)
There’s a reason KJ Hamler’s nickname is “The Human Joystick.” The way he can evade defenders in the open when it seems they got a beat on him is ridiculous. His highlight reel from just two seasons of action in Happy Valley will go down with the best of them.
No. 1: Journey Brown Goes Beast Mode (Memphis)
Journey Brown set a new bowl record for Penn State with 202 rushing yards in the win over the Tigers. No run was more impressive than this one, though, in which he did his best Marshawn Lynch impression. I count four broken tackles on his way to the end zone, including the final one in which he literally drags the defender four yards for the score.
What was your favorite play of the season? Feel free to let us know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading along with us all throughout the 2019 season. And stay tuned for some more content throughout the spring leading up to the Blue-White Game in April.