No. 24 Penn St falls to No. 20 Houston, 30-14
In a locker room understandably quiet after a dispiriting loss,
Penn State interim coach Tom Bradley delivered one final postgame
speech this season before the team gathered in prayer.
A trying year ended with a 30-14 loss Monday at the TicketCity
Bowl to No. 20 Houston and sent the Nittany Lions into an uncertain
offseason following the in-season firing of coach Joe Paterno in
the aftermath of a child sex-abuse scandal that rocked college
”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,” Bradley said. ”I said, `Hey, we have a lot to be
thankful for,’ and we said a prayer.”
Whether Bradley or the rest of a veteran Penn State staff
assembled by Paterno returns next season remains in doubt. Bradley
has interviewed for the head-coaching job, but said the assistants
otherwise devoted their full attention to guiding the team through
the media storm after Paterno was fired Nov. 9.
”I’m proud of them and I’m thankful for the efforts they gave
me,” Bradley said of the coaching staff. ”They worked like dogs
the whole way through this thing. What they do from here, that’s
The 24th-ranked Nittany Lions were picked apart by star
quarterback Case Keenum, who threw for 532 yards and three
touchdowns. It was a dispiriting finish for a defense that was
allowing 162 yards passing per game.
Keenum threw for more than double that by halftime. Now, Houston
(13-1) gets to relish the satisfaction of extending its school
record for victories in a season.
Penn State must push forward still without a permanent head
”We’ve been to hell and back in a lot of ways, more so for our
kids,” said Paterno’s son, quarterback coach Jay Paterno. ”They
Keenum burned the Nittany Lions’ veteran secondary with
touchdown passes of 40 and 75 yards to build a 24-7 lead by
halftime. It was the school’s first bowl game without Paterno as
head coach since the 1962 Gator Bowl, a 17-7 loss to Florida.
Paterno was fired Nov. 9 by school trustees amid mounting
criticism that school leaders should have done more to after
learning of the shocking abuse allegations against retired
assistant Jerry Sandusky. He is awaiting trial after pleading not
guilty last month.
Bypassed by more prominent bowls, some Nittany Lions (9-4)
debated whether to travel to Dallas at all, then vowed they were
over getting jilted and focused on stopping Houston.
Turned out Linebacker U. got trampled by Keenum and Houston’s
”When you have a lot of fast guys, it makes my job a lot
easier,” Keenum said.
Start with receiver Patrick Edwards, who burned safety Macolm
Willis for a 40-yard touchdown pass from Keenum down the left
sideline for a 7-0 lead just 1:52 into the game that often
resembled a one-sided track meet. Keenum hit Justin Johnson for an
8-yard TD pass with 2:35 left for a 17-0 lead.
Houston coach Tony Levine, leading the Cougars for the first
time since replacing Kevin Sumlin, was pretty impressed.
”I’m biased, obviously. I’d put him right at the top,” Levine
said of Keenum. ”You don’t win 12 games by accident and I don’t
think you don’t break the records he broke by accident,
Already the NCAA career leader coming into the game for passing
yardage and touchdown passes, Keenum added another record to his
His 227 first-quarter passing yards set the record for most
passing yards in one quarter in any bowl game, breaking the mark
previously held by Louisville’s Browning Nagle (223 yards) against
Alabama in the first quarter of the 1991 Fiesta Bowl, according to
TicketCity Bowl officials.
Penn State All-American defensive tackle Devon Still, already
slowed by turf toe, couldn’t keep up with Keenum’s quick release
and Houston’s no-huddle attack. The Cougars exploited Penn State’s
bend-but-don’t -break defense across the middle, including Edwards’
75-yard touchdown reception up the seam from a scrambling Keenum
for a 24-7 lead by halftime.
Keenum finished 45 of 69 passing – two fewer attempts than the
number of offensive plays Penn State ran all afternoon.
Down by 20 midway through the third quarter, cornerback Stephon
Morris tried to keep his fellow defenders motivated on the bench
The struggling offense without injured starting quarterback Matt
McGloin provided a glimmer of hope after Rob Bolden connected with
Justin Brown for a pretty 69-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to
27-14 at 2:38 of the third quarter.
Penn State’s defense adjusted to hold the Cougars to just two
field goals in the second half, but the early deficit proved too
much to overcome and Bolden threw three second-half interceptions –
two by safety Nick Saenz.
”We knew they were going to be tough, we watched a lot of film
on them,” left tackle Quinn Barham said about Houston’s defense.
”We knew – and they brought it to us.”
With 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Penn State had
already given up 552 yards of total offense to Houston, the most
allowed by the Nittany Lions all season.
This wasn’t the lasting impression Bradley wanted to leave on
the Penn State committee searching for Paterno’s replacement.
The outgoing Bradley, who is popular with players, is among the
candidates who have been interviewed. Acting athletic director
David Joyner has said he hopes to have a new coach in place to give
him a few weeks to recruit before Feb. 1, when high school seniors
can announce their college choices.
Penn State defensive tackle Jordan Hill said he wasn’t relieved
a difficult season was over.
”I’m glad that we’re going to get to move on, but it’s hard
letting go of this team because we’re so close,” he said.
Bolden finished 7 of 26 passing for 137 yards, while Stephfon
Green ran for 63 yards on 15 carries including a 6-yard scoring run
on a direct snap in the second quarter.
It was one of the few times the Cougars’ D got tricked. After
getting upset 49-28 by Southern Mississippi in the Conference USA
title game to lose a chance to play in the BCS, Houston ended the
season with an impressive win over a power conference team.
Edwards finished with 10 catches and 228 yards for two
touchdowns, while Johnson had 12 catches for 148 yards at the
92,000-seat Cotton Bowl.
The stands were about a half-full on a sunny afternoon that
ended with Houston’s red-clad fans celebrating and chanting
Back in State College, the 85-year-old Paterno planned to watch
from home, his son said. He may not have been happy by what he saw
– though he was still rooting for his players.
”One thing he said, `Yeah, I’m going to watch because I care so
much about these kids,”’ Jay Paterno said. ”He cares about those