Tumultuous Penn State season ends with thud

DALLAS — Penn State quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said after the TicketCity Bowl on Monday that he felt like the Nittany Lions had been through hell and back the past six weeks because of the child sex-abuse scandal linked to the school.

The three-plus hours it took for Houston to dismantle Penn State in the 30-14 game at Cotton Bowl Stadium didn’t help ease any of that pain.

Looking like a program that had been rattled by the scandal, which led to the firing of longtime head coach Joe Paterno, the Nittany Lions came out and stunk to start the game. Houston scored 17 points before Penn State registered a first down.

It certainly wasn’t the kind of performance the school was looking for to end the season on a positive note following a couple of negative months in Happy Valley.

“I was disappointed in the way we played,” said interim head coach Tom Bradley, who was the first man to coach Penn State in a bowl game other than Joe Paterno since 1962. “I thought we’d play better defensively. I didn’t anticipate us giving up those big plays.”

Bradley’s big concern coming into the game wasn’t the scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. It wasn’t even the fact Penn State was without starting quarterback Matt McGloin, who was punched by a teammate last month in the locker room and suffered injuries that kept him out of the game.

Either one of those could have shifted the focus enough that prepping for a Houston team that was one victory shy of a BCS berth would have been difficult.

Bradley’s main worry was trying to slow down Houston quarterback Case Keenum. It didn’t work as Keenum threw for 532 yards, becoming the ninth quarterback to pass for more than 500 yards in a bowl contest.

McGloin’s replacement — sophomore Rob Bolden — did nothing to help the matters. He completed only seven passes and threw three interceptions.

If the Nittany Lions were trying to make a statement about how distractions weren’t going to hamper the team, Monday certainly didn’t help the cause.

And now that a 9-4 season has come to an end, uncertainly creeps back into the picture for Penn State.

Who is going to be the next head coach? Which assistants are going to be retained? What will players like Bolden do? The quarterback nearly transferred after last season and said Monday has unsure what his future at Penn State holds.

Talk about distractions.

“I haven’t lied to you guys yet, and I’m not going to start now,” said Jay Paterno, who talked with his father before the game Monday. “It does cross your mind when you walk off the field for the last time that it may be the last time you coach at Penn State. I’m sure there are some people who hope it is the last time you walk off the field at Penn State. It’s all in God’s plans.”

Bradley’s in the same boat as Jay Paterno.

He didn’t have his best game Monday, either. The affable Penn State lifer tried not to interfere with the defensive play calling Monday.

Maybe he should have.

Big plays by the Houston offense doomed Penn State. Keenum found Patrick Edwards for 40 yards on a touchdown pass on the game’s first drive. Even after Penn State gained a little bit of traction after a second-quarter touchdown made it a 17-7 game, the Nittany Lions stumbled again.

With less than two minutes remaining in the first half, Keenum found Edwards for a 75-yard score after the receiver got behind three Penn State defensive backs.

Bradley should have known he was in trouble before the game when he had trouble finding the locker room at the cavernous Cotton Bowl. Maybe it was the decision to defer to the second half, in hopes that his defense would set the tone on the game’s first drive. That Houston first drive went 76 yards in less than two minutes, giving the Cougars a lead they never relinquished.

Maybe for Bradley, picking up the mess that’s become of the program won’t be his problem at all, although it’s one he wants. He said he plans to hit the recruiting trail Wednesday if he’s still working for the university.

If he does, he’ll do so proud of the effort his team has given since he replaced Paterno — even it was not reflected in the performance Monday.

“I thought they had a tough go for four weeks, 50 some days, whatever it was, unique situation, obviously different,” Bradley said of his speech to the team following the game. “But I told them to stick together as a team. They’re always going to be teammates for the rest of their life, be proud of what they did accomplish. I said, ‘Hey, we have a lot to be thankful for,’ and we said a prayer.”