TC BOWL: First Quarter Dooms Lions

Penn State can't overcome a slow start, falls to Houston 30-14 in the TicketCity Bowl in Dallas. The Lions cap their season at 9-4.

Tom Bradley knew that in order for Penn State to have any sort of success against the nation's fastest offense, it would have to survive the first quarter.

Well, the Nittany Lions didn't.

“We couldn't get anything going offensively,” Bradley said. “We couldn't run the ball early to keep us on the field, which was one of our goals, so that was disappointing. I thought we'd be able to do that in the first quarter to at least slow them down a little bit. Didn't happen today.”

No. 23 Penn State ended its tumultuous season with a 30-14 loss to No. 16 Houston in the TicketCity Bowl Monday. Cougars' quarterback Case Keenum started firing right from the start, completing four of six passes in the first series. He hit receivers for 39 and 40 yards that resulted in a 7-0 lead just two minutes in.

Penn State responded with a three-and-out.

The Cougars went on to score 17 points by quarter's end, and the Nittany Lions didn't have a single first down. Their first first-down didn't come until the second quarter.

So how would Bradley grade his team's first 15 minutes?

“F,” he said. “I would give us an F. That's the one thing about bowl games. You have to get caught up to speed as fast you can. You can't duplicate because you haven't played in five weeks. You're just not used to it.”

The interim head coach added: “That's one thing that always worries you. You got to get caught up and we didn't today. I know the games we win it's because we come out of the first quarter at least even or close to it.”

Last week, co-defensive coordinator Larry Johnson said that they couldn't quite emulate Keenum in practice. The staff did other things to get used to facing a no-huddle offense. But it was clear the looks Penn State saw from its scout team were not near the pace the real Keenum presented Wednesday.

“They were getting the ball off in two seconds,” defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. “It was almost physically impossible to get a sack off. And their O-line wasn't doing much to stop us. It was Keenum getting the ball off so fast. That guy, he's legit.”

Keenum finished the first quarter with 227 yards, breaking the previous all-time bowl record for passing yards in a quarter. Louisville's Browning Nagle had 223 in the 1991 Fiesta Bowl.

Penn State's offense was supposed to act as the team's best defense, as ball control was crucial in keeping Keenum off the field. But the Lions were never able to establish a running game.

In the first quarter, Penn State had eight carries for 22 yards. On the day, five different players combined for just 169 yards.

“We needed to get a running game going,” said quarterback Rob Bolden, who went 7 of 26 for 137 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. “We needed to open some holes so Silas [Redd] and [Stephfon Green] could get in. In the second half, they did, they opened holes and got the ball running. But it was just hit or miss. That was the theme of the day.”

Penn State started all four of its first quarter drives with a long field and couldn't make any big plays to halt Houston's momentum. The Cougars scored on every one of their possessions in the first.

“We didn't come up with a turnover, we didn't come up with a kicking play, we had a long field most of the time,” quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said. “We didn't come up with things that would help us. A lot of things could have been better for us.”

Down 17-0 at the start of the second, it appeared Penn State would catch a break when Justin Brown had a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown on the Lions' first drive. But a replay showed he stepped out of bounds at his own 33.

PSU was still able to score later in the series on a trick play where Bolden faked a high snap and Green took it in for a six-yard touchdown.

But a few minutes later, Keenum found a wide-open Patrick Edwards for 75 yards to widen Houston's lead to 24-7.

“I think that just broke our back,” Bradley said.

Penn State made some defensive adjustments after the first half, but was still unable to stop Keenum and company.

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