Ronnie Brown set an Auburn bowl record for most yards rushing.
Johnson, who whined in the postgame press conference about getting only 20 carries, was limited to 72 net yards at just 3.6 yards per run.
The star of the Capital One Bowl and MVP was Auburn sophomore tailback Ronnie Brown, who led the Tigers to a 13-9 victory with two touchdown runs and 184 rushing yards on 37 carries. That was a strong performance for a player coming off an ankle injury.
Brown, who began the game as a backup tailback to currently injured Carnell Williams, said his goal was to outrush Johnson and go past the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season with 1,008. He accomplished both goals and credited his offensive line and fullback Brandon Johnson, his lead blocker, for setting the stage for his MVP performance.
"You would like to think we (the offensive line) had something to do with it," said offensive line coach Hugh Nall, who could be Auburn's next offensive coordinator. "Ronnie is a good, hard-nosed football player."
Nobody was more hard-nosed than fullback Johnson, whose return from an ankle injury was needed in the smash-mouth battle. "I still wasn't 100 percent out there, but I enjoyed the game a lot," noted Johnson, who loves physical football. "That was my kind of football game."
While Penn State's Johnson whined about his team trying to play finesse football on offense, in sharp contrast Brandon Johnson and Brown talked about the team aspects of the game. More than a few of the Tigers were less than impressed with the Penn State back, especially after having to tackle more talented players like their injured star Cadillac Williams and newcomer Brandon Jacobs, who will challenge for the starting job in spring drills. Neither was available for bowl game duty.
Although the Auburn offense did enough to win, the defense was the real star of the show. "They did a great job today," said Gene Chizik, the first year defensive coordinator who noted his group got better and better as the season progressed. "We were real pleased with how it ended."
Tuberville said he wasn't surprised that Auburn's defense held Penn State's offense and Johnson in check. "We run so many fronts and all 11 of our guys can run," Tuberville said. "We built our defense on speed. We are not a big team, but we are a physical and fast team and I think that is going to win out in most situations when you are playing against a running back such as Larry."
"Obviously, in the first half we shot ourselves in the foot with all of those penalties," Tuberville said. "We almost got ourselves in a bind. Defensively, we held up in the red zone a couple of times and got ourselves out of a jam. We talked about that at the half. If we just cut down the 15-yard penalties and were just a little more consistent on offense the ball game would be ours and it worked out that way."
Penn State capitalized on an early break as Campbell lost a fumble at his own 15 on the opening series. The Nittany Lions managed a first down, but stalled on two runs and an incomplete pass. Robbie Gould kicked a 21-yard field goal to put the Nittany Lions on top 3-0.
Auburn had a great chance to take the lead early in the second quarter or tie the game, but the Tigers didn't do either. Starting at midfield after an 18-yard punt return by Roderick Hood, the Tigers moved inside the PSU 10 before stalling on a third and two at the seven when Campbell couldn't find an open receiver and was incomplete with his pass.
Damon Duval then was called on to kick a field goal. In an almost identical looking kick that looked like his unfortunate finish against Florida earlier in the season, the kick was too low and blocked.
Penn State returned the favor by missing a field goal later in the second quarter, a 33-yarder that was wide right.
Auburn's offense struggled the rest of the quarter and the Tigers fell behind 6-0 at the 1:44 mark when Gould made a 27-yard field goal to cap a penalty-aided drive of 33 yards on eight plays for the Lions.
Auburn had a chance to score in the final seconds with Brown racing 23 yards to get the drive moving. However, the threat ended with just second seconds left in the half after senior Marcel Willis couldn't hold on to a pass from Campbell at the Lions got the ball at their own 36.
At halftime the Tigers had netted just 114 yards on 34 plays while Penn State totaled 130 yards on 30 plays.
After Penn State got the ball to start the second half, the Lions came up a yard shy of a first down at their own 48 before punting to Auburn. The Tigers took over at their own 26 and took the lead with a smash-mouth drive, 13 straight running plays to take a 7-6 advantage.
Brown got the ball for 10 carries, including the fourth and goal extra effort score at right guard from inches out. Tre Smith had two carries and Campbell converted a third down and seven with a run up the middle on a pass play to gain 11 yards to give the Tigers first and goal at the PSU five. Duval's PAT put the Tigers up with 3:52 left in the third quarter.
Auburn had a scoring opportunity on its next possession after a strong defensive stand backed up the Lions to fourth and 18 at their own five. However, Penn State came up with a fourth down and inches stop on a QB sneak by Campbell with 1:12 left in the third quarter at the Tigers 24.
That play was a momentum-changer as was backup quarterback Michael Robinson, who replaced Zack Mills and led the Nittany Lions on a field drive that covered 61 yards on 11 plays. Gould put the Lions on top 9-7 with 10:10 left in the final quarter.
However, a big play in the kicking game turned the momentum back in Auburn's favor and turned out to be the biggest play of the game. Damon Duval's 54-yard punt, that Rashaud Walker downed at the Penn State one, set up the winning touchdown when the Auburn defense wouldn't let the Nittany Lions get off the goal line.
Auburn started at its 40-yard line and took just six plays to get into the end zone with Brown sweeping right end behind blocks from Brandon Johnson and substitute Ryan Broome, who was substituting for injured Marcus McNeill.
Ben Nowland, the senior center, told Broome when he came in for McNeill that he was good enough to get the job done and go out and do it. That was exactly what happened.
"I didn't know we scored because I was still blocking," Broome said. "When I finally saw the official's hands in the air it was a great feeling."
That came with 2:19 left and put the Tigers up 13-9. Tuberville decided to go for two points and Auburn just missed on a pass from Campbell to Marcel Willis.
Roderick Hood intercepted a pass to help preserve the victory and the defense got one more chance to put its stamp on the victory after Auburn couldn't run out the clock on offense, but did burn the Penn State first downs.
"We really enjoyed this win," said Karlos Dansby, who was credited with 4 1/2 tackles as Auburn limited PSU to 268 total yards. "The Penn State players and fans were really arrogant and it was a lot of fun to shut them up," the junior linebacker said.