No. 24 Penn St falls to No. 20 Houston, 30-14

Pacing the Penn State sideline just the way his dad did for 46

seasons, Jay Paterno couldn’t help but wonder what JoePa might be

doing back home in Happy Valley.

A 30-14 loss to Houston at the TicketCity Bowl on Monday ended a

tumultuous season for a program shrouded with uncertainty following

the firing of a Hall of Fame coach in the aftermath of a child

sex-abuse scandal that shook college sports.

”It wasn’t easy … It wasn’t easy on game day without him

because you think about him,” said Jay Paterno, Penn State’s

quarterbacks coach. ”I always came to work knowing we had an ace

up our sleeve in Joe because of all of his experience, so yeah it

was tough.”

For the players, too.

”We’ve been to hell and back in a lot of ways, more so for our

kids,” Paterno said. ”They did nothing.”

The 24th-ranked Nittany Lions were picked apart by Case Keenum

and the 20th-ranked Cougars. He threw for 532 yards and three

touchdowns, 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 in the satisfaction of extending its school

record for victories in a season.

Penn State must push forward still without a permanent head

coach. Longtime defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who was

appointed the interim coach after Paterno’s dismissal, is a

candidate in a search that overshadowed the game itself.

”I thought the guys came out and they played hard. It’s been a

difficult year for them,” Bradley said. ”It just didn’t go our

way.”

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 prevent the

shocking abuse allegations against retired assistant Jerry

Sandusky. He is awaiting trial after pleading not guilty last

month.

Bradley’s enormous task: guide players besieged by the resulting

media scrutiny.

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 Linbacker U. got trampled over by Keenum and

Houston’s high-octane offense.

”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,

either.”

Already the NCAA career leader coming into the game for passing

yardage and touchdown passes, Keenum added another record to his

impressive resume.

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

with high-fives.

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

”Houston.”

Back in State College, the 85-year-old Paterno planned to watch

from home, Jay Paterno 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 said. ”He cares about those

kids.”