Penn State Heading To The Cotton Bowl

Penn State is heading to the Cotton Bowl Classic for the first time since 1975.

The 10th-ranked Nittany Lions learned their postseason fate during the New Year’s Six reveal show on Sunday. 

Penn State will play No. 17 Memphis inside AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Dec. 28. 

James Franklin’s squad put together another 10-win season for the program, capping off the regular season with a 27-6 win over Rutgers.

This marks the third time in the last four seasons the Nittany Lions have won at least 10 games. 

The last time Penn State accomplished that feat was a span from 1993-96. 

The Tigers, meanwhile, captured the American Athletic Conference Championship on Saturday by topping Cincinnati, 29-24. It was their second win over the Bearcats in an eight-day span. 

The win also gave Memphis its first 12-win season in program history. 

Senior Day Emotions

Senior Cam Brown (6) will play his final game at Beaver Stadium on Saturday.

Saturday will mark the final time Penn State’s senior class get to suit up for a game inside Beaver Stadium.

As the Nittany Lions close their chapter on the regular season, the seniors close their home careers. 

Penn State will honor 16 seniors (see the full list at the bottom of this story) as part of the annual Senior Day festivities. It will undoubtedly be a bittersweet day.

“I think I’m the kind of guy who likes to think I’ll be okay, but I have really no clue when it’s going to happen, especially with my parents being down there on the field,” senior safety Garrett Taylor said when asked if or when he’s going to get emotional. 

“I think that’s going to be pretty special. So, I’ll see. It’s kind of weird thinking about it, but I’m excited just to have one last chance to get out there in Beaver and play in front of 100,000-some people. It’s been a heck of a journey and I’m super appreciative of it.” 

Fellow senior Cam Brown said he expects to be somewhat emotional, but he’s not going to let it affect his play. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

“I’ve been thinking about it, the process, just everything going through it,” Brown said. “It’s going to be an emotional weekend for me, mentally at least, but the game of football is about containing those emotions and playing the game. That’s my biggest thing this weekend is focusing and being able to channel myself to play in this game.”

Brown has been one of the key leaders for Penn State the last few seasons. 

He’s currently third on the team in total tackles with 62 and tied for first in forced fumbles with three. 

More importantly, he’s been a vocal leader for the Nittany Lions, being a source to rally behind whenever the team needs a boost before or after a game. 

With his Nittany Lion career now winding down, Brown said wants to be remembered as someone who played hard for his teammates all the time. 

“I try to push, tried to lead this year, and granted, it didn’t come out the way I wanted it to, but I feel like that part is going to at least stay in the locker room,” Brown said. “The guys will know that I always fought for them, even with the coaches. I fought for the coaches in the locker room, I fought for the players with the coaches, and I feel like if that’s what I can leave here with, I’m good.”

Brown, Taylor and the rest of the senior class compiled a 40-11 record to this point, becoming the first 40-win senior class at Penn State since 2009. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

A win over Rutgers would tie the 1997 seniors’ 41 wins.

“We talk about being an elite program day-in and day-out, 365 days of the year and what that takes,” Taylor said of the program’s development since he first got to campus as a freshman.

“I think what’s gotten us there is the buy-in. I came in when there was a point in the program there was still some turmoil and Coach Franklin was trying to get guys to buy in. We had some guys who were. We had some guys who weren’t. And that’s no fault to them. That’s just kind of where the program was at that point.”

For Taylor, especially, it’s been quite the journey to become a starting safety for the Nittany Lions. 

An injury his senior season in high school forced him to sit out his freshman year as a redshirt. He was a role-player his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons, with most of his contributions coming on special teams. 

It wasn’t until his junior season that he found a significant role in Brent Pry’s defense. With the departures of Marcus Allen and Troy Apke, he won a starting job at the back end of the Nittany Lions’ defense. 

“It wasn’t a clear-cut route. But through the support of my parents, which was huge, the support of my coaches, and just mainly the belief in myself, I was able to have the patience and have faith that my opportunity was going to come,” Taylor said. 

“Thankfully, I got that opportunity, earned the starting job and never looked back. I think a lot of guys when their opportunity comes, it’s either you take it or you miss it. I think I did a really good job of capitalizing on that.” 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Taylor is one of a handful of fifth-year seniors for the Nittany Lions. Players, who for one reason or another had to go through a redshirt season. 

They’ve seen the program experience some incredible highs — a Big Ten title, back-to-back New Year’s Six bowls, etc. — and some rough lows.

But each of them stuck around long enough to see Penn State back in the upper echelon of college football.

“Five years ago where the program was compared to where it is now is dramatically different. And the reality is those guys and guys like them, the guys that were fifth-year seniors before that, they’re owed most of the credit,” Franklin said. 

“They really are. They committed to Penn State at a time that maybe it wasn’t as easy of a decision to commit to Penn State. They’ve battled through adversity. They’ve been phenomenal. So it’s really hard to kind of sit here and put into words what they have meant to this program, what they have meant to me personally.”

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Penn State’s Senior Day Participants:

Nick Bowers

Cam Brown

Weston Carr

Dan Chisena

Nick Eury

Blake Gillikin

Steven Gonzalez

Jan Johnson

Hunter Kelly

Colton Maxwell

John Reid

Michael Shuster

Garrett Taylor

Justin Tobin

Robert Windsor

Jake Zembiec

Penn State Preview: Rutgers

UNIVERSITY PARK — Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.

Game details: No. 10 Penn State (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) vs. Rutgers (2-9, 0-8 Big Ten), 3:30 p.m. kickoff, broadcast on Big Ten Network. 

Venue: Beaver Stadium 

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 37 degrees with a wintry mix possible 

The line: Penn State – 40.5

Last week: Penn State lost at Ohio State. Rutgers lost at home to Michigan State 

All-time series: Penn State leads 27-2

Last meeting (2018): Behind a stellar performance from the Penn State defense, Trace McSorley became the winningest quarterback in program history with last year’s 20-7 victory over Rutgers. McSorley threw two touchdowns to Pat Freiermuth in the win. 

Throwback classic (2015): We caught up with longtime editor of The Football Letter, John Black, to help recount Penn State’s first Stripe Out game, a 28-3 win over the Scarlet Knights. 

Overview: Penn State’s College Football Playoff hopes are all but over, but there’s still plenty to play for when the Nittany Lions host the Scarlet Knights this Saturday. Checking in at No. 10 in the latest Playoff rankings, Penn State is in a great position to play in a New Year’s Six bowl. Rutgers, meanwhile, limps to the finish line once again, having already fired head coach Chris Ash earlier this season. 

Penn State wins if: The Nittany Lions handle business. There’s a reason Penn State is a near six-touchdown favorite. Rutgers has been awful and the Nittany Lions should be eager to put the disappointing loss to the Buckeyes behind them. 

Rutgers wins if: We’ve tried to come up with a scenario where the Scarlet Knights somehow catch the Nittany Lions sleeping in this regular season finale, but it’s just not going to happen. The best Rutgers could hope for is to keep it relatively close until halftime. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Count On: A lot of emotions for Penn State seniors. Senior Day is always a bittersweet moment for college athletes. These Nittany Lion seniors deserve all the credit in the world. They’ve led Penn State to a remarkable four-year run, which with a win on Saturday, will see the program tally at-least 10 wins in three of the past four years. That’s a heck of an achievement. 

Keep an eye on: The Penn State quarterback situation. At his Tuesday press conference, head coach James Franklin said starting QB Sean Clifford would probably be a game-time decision. Knowing Clifford’s competitiveness, he’s going to want to be out there one last time in Beaver Stadium this year. Still, even if Clifford does play, expect Will Levis to get a healthy share of the reps, especially if the Nittany Lions are up big early.  

Trivia tidbit: The first matchup between these two programs came all the way back in 1918. The teams met on Nov. 9, 1918, just two days after the German armistice effectively ended World War I. The Scarlet Knights came away with the win at New Beaver Field, 26-3 

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 42, Rutgers 14

Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 45, Rutgers 7

How The Gilmores Gave Back

“Penn State is so near and dear to our hearts, we couldn’t think of a better place to have this scholarship at”

Deryk and Camille Gilmore are always eager to give back.

They don’t do it for special recognition or personal gain, though. It’s simply a byproduct of how they were raised.

Deryk, a Penn State football letterman (86-88), grew up most of his life in a single-parent home.

His father, Arthur T. Gilmore, an engineer and one of the first black men to serve in the U.S. Navy, died when Deryk was just four years old.

He looked to his mother for guidance and inspiration, as she instilled in him a deep sense of faith that he continues to carry today.

Camille lost her father, Dennis H.M. Chang, who once served as the personal bodyguard for the Jamaican prime minister, when she was a freshman in college. Her mother, a nurse, was tasked with raising and supporting Camille and her three siblings.

“I think one of the things we recognized is the blessings that we have now are because of those who came before us,” Camille, a 1991 Penn State graduate from the Smeal College of Business, said. “The best way to honor them was to give back. We knew how hard it was for our mothers to raise kids from New York by themselves, and we all ended up living pretty darn well.”

To further fulfill that mission of giving back, the Gilmores have recently donated scholarships to support students at three different universities across the country.

At Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) in Lawrenceville, Georgia, where Camille served as a board of visitor’s member, the Gilmores provided funds for a scholarship to the school’s nursing program in honor of her mother, Pamela Chang.

The second scholarship created by the Gilmores went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where Deryk and Camille both received their MBAs, and where Deryk was a football coach for the Fighting Illini. This scholarship was dedicated in honor of Deryk’s mother, Yvonne Gilmore.

For the third scholarship, the Gilmores wanted to accomplish two things: they wanted to give back to Penn State and they wanted to find a way to honor their fathers in the same mold as they honored their mothers.

“Penn State is so near and dear to our hearts, we couldn’t think of a better place to have this scholarship at,” Deryk, a 1990 Penn State agricultural business management grad, said.

When you talk further with the Gilmores, you learn quickly why Penn State will always remain a special place for them.

It is, after all, the place where the Gilmores met almost 29 years ago.

Visiting the McDonald’s on College Avenue to grab dinner one night, they each stepped up to their respective cash registers to place an order. 

“We were both at the counter ordering and we each asked for a coke with no ice and that was the start of it for us, I guess,” Camille said laughing. “I ended up going to a party of his later on.”

And just to prove how good of a businessman I am, even though I liked her, I still charged her five dollars to get into the house,” Deryk quickly responded in jest. “And we’ve now been together 29 years, married for 26. It’s always funny to look back on that.”

This past summer, the Gilmores committed $25,000 for a scholarship fund at Penn State, which will offer $5,000 in direct student support through the Penn State BLUEprint Peer Mentoring Program for each of the next five years.

It was the perfect way to honor their fathers, while simultaneously give aid to students at their alma mater.

“Our dads just worked so hard to help people and we wanted them to be recognized as the role models that they were in their own communities,” Deryk said. “They both worked in careers that were not common for men of color at the time. They worked and were deeply family men.”

The Gilmore/Chang Family Scholarship will be awarded to full-time undergraduate students who have demonstrated a financial need, meet the academic requirements, participate in the BLUEprint Peer Mentoring Program, and hold the values of mentorship, leadership and service.

Deryk said the ultimate goal of the scholarship is to try and make it easier for someone interested in Penn State to attend, particularly students of color. 

“Being black, we understand it’s hard for students of different backgrounds sometimes to be able to afford college,” Deryk said. “We want to help their path get a little easier. We didn’t want to make it all about grades but about upside. We want to help people who work hard to have a chance. Sometimes you just need that little bump. When students get into Penn State, it’s can be hard to stay there. If we can create avenues to help, let’s do it.”

During their time as undergrads, the Gilmores themselves were active student leaders and were particularly involved with several leadership programs for students of color.

In addition to her business degree, Camille was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. She’s propelled her experiences at Penn State into more than 25 years of human resources leadership for various businesses.

She’s now the vice president of human resources and global chief diversity officer for Boston Scientific, a manufacturer of medical devices used in interventional medical specialties.

Photos courtesy of Deryk and Camille Gilmore

Having worked on promoting diversity in the workplace for most of her career, getting students from more diverse backgrounds to Penn State is important to Camille.

“The [BLUEprint] scholarship offers a level of inclusion to say, ‘Hey, we want you at Penn State. We believe in you and who you are. And we’re going to find a way to keep you here,’” she said. “To me, I hope Penn State can use this as a pull strategy to attract the best, diverse talent to Penn State. If this scholarship helps us to get the best and brightest from diverse backgrounds, that’s exactly what we want.”

Deryk started Incoming Black Athletes At Penn State (IBAAPS) — the first mentor education program for student athletes — and was a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.

He was also a defensive tackle on the 1986-87 Penn State football team that took down the favored Miami Hurricanes in the Fiesta Bowl to capture the program’s second national championship.

The Gilmore’s younger son, Deion followed in his father’s footsteps, and now plays at defensive tackle for Manchester University (Indiana), while their eldest son, Dantae’, is a theatre major at the University of Alabama.

“For me, my experience playing football was all about the friendships I created and the different skills I used to help me in life,” Deryk said. “You know, you learn time management skills balancing football and school. You must learn how to work with expectations, for yourself and for your group. It’s what helped make me so successful in business.”

As many of Joe Paterno’s former players are asked, Deryk gets questions all the time about what it was like playing under the legendary coach.

“You know, it was hard but rewarding playing for him. He definitely challenged me to be a better player and a better person,” Deryk said.

The biggest thing that’s always stuck with Deryk about Paterno is how much he cared for his players beyond how many sacks they recorded or touchdowns they scored.

He recalls the period when he had just graduated from Penn State and was in the process of looking for a place to start in his career.

Any time he interviewed or applied for a position, he said Paterno would call the employer and tell them that Deryk was the man to hire.

“He really helped me get my foot in the door, so to speak,” Deryk said. “He was always more worried about us as a person and the type of man we would become than he was about how great we were as an athlete.”

Deryk turned his experiences in business and football in to becoming the founder and owner of Day 1 Sports and Entertainment, whose clients include Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans — who Deryk helped negotiate a five-year, $82.5 million contract extension in March of 2018, the second-highest deal for a wide receiver in NFL history at the time.

Other Day 1 clients include La’El Collins of the Dallas Cowboys, Shaq Mason of the New England Patriots and Mitchell Schwartz of the Kansas City Chiefs — all of whom have recently negotiated new contracts or contract extensions.

“You know, I’d say one of the reasons I got into the agent industry was to impact these young men’s lives,” Deryk said. “We want to connect them to wealth and teach them the importance of ownership and being involved in their businesses. We don’t want them to turn it over to someone that can take advantage of them and lose the money. I always try to show players that they can be more than the employee. They can be the owner.”

As they each continue to excel in their careers, the connection to Penn State is as strong as ever for Deryk and Camille.

They believe in the impact of Penn State, Penn State students and Penn State alumni.

“I saw there was an incident earlier this season where someone had written an awful letter to a football player of ours (Jonathan Sutherland), and just seeing how well he responded to it and how we as a Penn State community rallied,” Deryk said. “We had each other’s backs. I think that culture is what makes us, Penn Stater’s, great. And that carries well beyond the student-athletes.”

And above all else, “We’re proud Penn Staters’, we bleed blue and white,” Camille said. “That’s for sure. That’ll never change.”

Nittany Lion Look Back (And Ahead)

Ohio State/Rutgers

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

A 17-point spurt in the third quarter pulled No. 8 Penn State within four of No. 2 Ohio State, but the Nittany Lions couldn’t complete the rally from there in Saturday’s Big Ten showdown from Columbus.

The Buckeyes scored a crucial fourth quarter touchdown and used a smothering defensive line to hold off Penn State, and eliminate the blue and white from Big Ten title contention.

Looking Back

Star of The Game: Chase Young

This award could easily go to Justin Fields or J.K. Dobbins, who both were terrific in the Buckeyes’ win. But defensive end Chase Young was flat out phenomenal. In his return from a two-game suspension, he was a terror from both edge spots. Young finished with nine tackles, including three sacks, and recorded a forced fumble. He effectively shut the game down as the Nittany Lions mounted another comeback in the 4th quarter. He absolutely deserves Heisman Trophy consideration.

Moment of Magic: Fields connects with Olave

With the Buckeyes only up four and the crowd inside the Horseshoe suddenly a bit nervous, Justin Fields lofted up a deep ball to his wide receiver Chris Olave in the end zone. Olave leapt into the air and outmuscled John Reid before hauling in the touchdown. It pushed the Buckeyes’ lead to 28-17 and that proved to be enough as Ohio State’s defense closed the deal down the stretch.

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Looking Ahead

Rutgers in a free fall

Penn State goes from playing the best team in the Big Ten this season to the worst. The Scarlet Knights are a disaster, having fired coach Chris Ash earlier this season and now reports circulating that they couldn’t come to an agreement with former coach Greg Schiano to take over the program. Rutgers is 2-9 overall and 0-8 in the Big Ten, outscored 328-45 in conference games.

Parsons named Butkus Finalist

Despite the loss in Columbus, sophomore linebacker Micah Parsons had another stellar day for the Nittany Lions. He finished second on the team with 10 tackles. He also recovered a fumble while forcing another to help turn the tide a bit in the third quarter. Parsons was named a finalist for the Butkus Award on Monday, given annually to the best linebacker in college football.

Penn State-Rutgers at a glance

Penn State is 27-2 all time against the Scarlet Knights and has won the last 12 meetings dating back to 1989. The last four games have been one-sided in favor of the Nittany Lions, with Penn State outscoring Rutgers, 122-16. The Nittany Lions should be in store for another dominant showing on Senior Day.

Nittany Lion Look Back (And Ahead)

No. 9 Penn State got back to winning ways on Saturday, holding off Indiana, 34-27.

The Nittany Lions used an 18-play, nine-minute drive in the fourth quarter to secure the win and now turn their attention toward the juggernaut that is No. 2 Ohio State.

Looking Back

Star of the Game: RB Journey Brown

With Noah Cain banged up, Journey Brown has seized the role of lead back in the Penn State offense. On Saturday he eclipsed 100 yards for the second straight game and (literally) carried the Nittany Lions to their ninth win of the season.

He finished with 100 yards on 21 carries and a touchdown. His score in the third quarter pushed the home team’s lead to 27-14 and played an integral part in the previously mentioned 18-play drive to seal the win.

Moment of Magic: Levis, Clifford convert key fourth downs

Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Will Levis has played sparingly in 2019, appearing in blowout wins early in the season. But he picked up a huge 4th down on the game-clinching series for Penn State. Facing a 4th-and-short, and having just been stopped short of a first down a play earlier, Levis burrowed his way through his offensive line and the Hoosiers’ defensive line to extend the drive inside Indiana territory.

A handful of plays later, Sean Clifford converted a 4th down attempt inside the two to give the Nittany Lions a 10-point cushion with less than two minutes to go. It was some tough, but crucial, running from each of the two quarterbacks.

Looking Ahead

Buckeyes blowing everyone out

Ohio State has been dominant so far this season. How dominant? The Buckeyes closest game of the season was in Week One against Florida Atlantic — a game the Buckeyes won by 24. In Big Ten, Ohio State has outscored opponents 352-72. Its defense has surrendered more than 20 points only once in conference play — 21 to Rutgers last week.

Recent thrillers

The last three games between Penn State and Ohio State have been must-see TV. In 2016, the Nittany Lions’ upset of the then-No. 2 Buckeyes started the program’s magical run to the Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl.

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

In 2017, Penn State led for most of the game, only to see Ohio State mount a furious rally led by J.T. Barrett. Last season, the Nittany Lions again led in the fourth quarter but couldn’t close it out and lost 27-26.

Dobbins: “Why do they have to be four-quarter games?”

The Buckeyes have heavily beaten every team they’ve played so far. In a lot of those games, starters like JK Dobbins haven’t had to even play at all in the fourth quarter as the blowouts rolled along.

When asked about upcoming games against Penn State and Michigan, which on paper will provide a stiffer test than the previous 10 games for Ohio State, Dobbins responded by asking “Why do they have to be four-quarter games?”

It’s safe to say he and his Ohio State teammates are extremely confident heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.

Penn State Preview: Indiana

UNIVERSITY PARK — Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.

Game details: No. 9 Penn State (8-1, 5-1 Big Ten) vs. Indiana (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten), noon kickoff, broadcast on ABC. 

Venue: Beaver Stadium 

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 39 degrees and partly cloudy. 

The line: Penn State – 14.5 

Last week: Penn State lost at Minnesota, 31-26. Indiana had a bye week

All-time series: Penn State leads 21-1 

Last meeting (2018): After two gut-wrenching losses to Ohio State and Michigan State, respectively, Penn State rebounded for a 33-28 win in Bloomington. It was not a perfect display by any means, with Indiana out gaining the Nittany Lions on the day, 554-417. Still, it was a much-needed victory given the nature of the two previous defeats that season for Penn State.  

Throwback classic (2010): Indiana got paid. Penn State got the win. The Hoosiers collected a $3 million paycheck to move their 2010 home game against the Nittany Lions to FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, only a 200-mile drive from State College. Penn State won the game, 41-24

Overview: Penn State is going to have to move on quickly from last weekend’s defeat to Minnesota, because the Hoosiers are playing with a lot of confidence right now. Coach Tom Allen has put his team in a position to potentially reach double-digit wins, something rarely done in Bloomington. While the Nittany Lions lost an emotional rollercoaster to the Gophers in Minneapolis, Indiana had a bye week, giving the Hoosiers an extra week to prepare for this one. 

Penn State wins if: The defense can return to form. It’s no secret the defense had a rough day at the office against Minnesota. The Gophers used quick passes and screens to negate the effectiveness of the stalwart Penn State front seven and put more pressure on the Nittany Lions’ secondary. I expect the Hoosiers to use a similar formula to that one. 

That being said, I anticipate Penn State’s defense to be motivated to get things back on track. The return of Antonio Shelton, who was suspended against Minnesota, should provide a nice spark. 

Indiana wins if: It exploits Penn State’s defense as Minnesota did. I really think this game comes down to Indiana’s offense vs. Penn State’s defense. As I mentioned before, the Nittany Lions’ secondary was burned repeatedly against the Golden Gophers. If the Hoosiers can put up points, it puts a lot more pressure on a Penn State offense that’s struggled with consistency all season long. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Count On: Pat Freiermuth to have another big day. When Penn State needs a first down, it seems like Sean Clifford always looks for his tight end. He had a career day last week and he’s a matchup nightmare for any opposing defense. Look for him to reach the end zone again Saturday and move atop the all-time touchdowns list by Penn State tight ends. It’s crazy to think he’s only a sophomore. 

Keep an eye on: Justin Shorter. The redshirt freshman has all the physical tools to be a premier wide receiver. He struggled last week with a few drops and hasn’t quite got going in his collegiate career yet. Coach James Franklin has talked about the need for receivers not named KJ Hamler and Jahan Dotson to step up and give Clifford another consistent target. 

Trivia tidbit: At 7-2 overall Indiana is off to its best start since 1993. The Hoosiers were off last weekend, but got a nod in the AP poll for the first time since Sept. 20, 1994 and the Amway Coaches Poll for the first time since Oct. 24, 1994.

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 35, Indiana 24

Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 28, Indiana 20