TC BOWL: Game Breakdown

The good, the bad and the very ugly from Penn State's TicketCity Bowl loss to Houston at the Cotton Bowl Monday.

DALLAS -- It is not the sort of thing one usually sees on Penn State's postgame press notes. But Houston quarterback Case Keenum was so good against the Nittany Lions in the TicketCity Bowl Monday that one of his achievements was acknowledged by the PSU athletic communications staff.

It says: “Houston's Case Keenum broke the Penn State opponent bowl record and all-time record for completions (45) and attempts (69) in a game. BYU's Ty Detmer completed 42 passes in the 1989 Holiday Bowl and Oregon's Danny O'Neill attempted 61 passes in the 1995 Rose Bowl.”

There was a significant difference between those games and this one, though. Namely, the Nittany Lions lost to the prolific passer, falling 30-14 to drop to 9-4 in what can only be described as the craziest season in the history of the sport.

State was cruising along at 8-1 before the Jerry Sandusky scandal hit. The university was turned on its head. Longtime coach Joe Paterno was fired.

And it looked like it all came crashing down on the players Monday, as they were never really in it against Keenum and the high-powered Cougar offense. Houston wrapped its season at 13-1 and must be kicking itself for the Conference USA championship game choke that cost it a BCS bowl bid.

After Monday's game was over, PSU interim head coach Tom Bradley focused less on the negatives from this one game (and there were a lot of them) and more on the big picture.

“I told my team very simply … I wanted to thank them for all the things that they did for all of us, for what they had been through.” Bradley said. “I told them we still had a lot to be thankful for. Things didn't go our way today. I told them in life it doesn't always work out that way. I said, it's not what happens to you, it's how you react to it.

“I thought they had a tough go for four weeks, 50 some days, whatever it was - (a) unique situation, obviously different. 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.”

Here is our breakdown of the TicketCity Bowl.

MAN O' THE HOUR: From Penn State's perspective, it was WR Justin Brown. He had a 69-yard reception for a score and just barely stepped out of bounds on what would have been a 93-yard punt return. “You'd rather take a win over anything,” Brown said afterward. “I guess I did OK.”

CLOSE SECOND: LB Gerald Hodges looked comfortable against Houston's wide-open attack, making nine tackles and breaking up a pass.

HONORABLE MENTION: Wildcat QB Bill Belton carried six times for 38 yards, all in the second half. We should have seen more of him.

OPPOSING MVP: We'll go out on a limb and pick Keenum.

TURNING POINT: On Houston's first drive, the Lions had the Cougars in a third-and-13 from the PSU 40. Nickel Malcolm Willis bit on a fake and WR Patrick Edwards got behind him for an easy 40-yard TD. UH controlled the game the rest of the way. “If we just stayed back in coverage, we were off the field,” Bradley said. “… If you get them off on the first third down, (it) might be a different game. Just stay back.”

STRONG STRATEGY: Houston didn't really bother running the ball. With Keenum, it didn't have to. The Lion defense was so porous that he picked it apart again and again. “He's really a great quarterback,” PSU FS Nick Sukay said. “He knows where he's going all the time.”

BY THE NUMBERS: Keenum had 227 passing yards in the first quarter, breaking the NCAA bowl record for yards in an opening period. Louisville's Browning Nagle previously held the mark (223 vs. Alabama in the 1991 Fiesta Bowl).

ASSISTANT ASSESSMENT: It didn't look like any of the PSU assistants did a particularly good job of preparing the Lions for this game.

GREAT PLAY: Brown's long touchdown catch was terrific. Penn State was facing third-and-16 when Bolden unleashed a perfect deep ball. Brown snared it behind a pair of defenders and outraced them to the end zone. Unfortunately, it was really the only real big play all day against Houston's so-so defense.

NOT-SO-GREAT PLAY: SS Drew Astorino slipped on coverage and allowed Edwards to get behind him. He caught the ball with no Lion defender within 10 yards and took off for a 75-yard score.

SPECIAL DELIVERY: Even though he stepped out of bounds, Brown's long return was spectacular. He made any number of people miss and even hurdled a Cougar.

INJURY REPORT: DBs Astorino and Adrian Amos both left the game with concussions. DE Sean Stanley dislocated an elbow and was unable to continue. TB Silas Redd took a hard hit to the legs and did not return. But Bradley said after the game that Redd was OK.

HIDDEN HERO: On a Bolden fumble late in the third quarter, running back Stephfon Green somehow came up with the recovery among a host of Cougars. Bolden had the 69-yard scoring pass to Justin Brown on the next play.


• Penn State used plenty of Wildcat to start the second half. As bad as the offense was to that point, why not? But we don't get why Bolden stayed in at WR when Bill Belton took over as QB.

• Moye and fellow WR Devon Smith both had trouble holding onto the ball Monday.

Anthony Fera averaged 41.6 yards on nine punts. But that was misleading. Only one kick was downed inside the UH 20. He also had several ducks. Quack, quack.

• On its first third-and-1, Penn State called a pass play. Bolden overthrew open fullback Michael Zordich. As bad as Bolden has been, why not get a first down via the run to let the offense get into a bit of a rhythm? After the game, Bolden said the ball was tipped by a defender.

• We'll never understand why Penn State used Astorino as a punt return man in his career. He was always a disaster waiting to happen. Monday was no different. He muffed an attempt in the second quarter that he had to fall on at the PSU 6.


• Penn State opened the game with a nickel defense, with Willis serving as the extra DB. After the Lions were torched through the air in the first quarter, including the TD catch by Edwards behind Willis, the Lion defense adjusted. Corner D'Anton Lynn was moved to nickel, with Chaz Powell and Stephon Morris playing CB.

• Penn State rotated four men on the right side of the offensive line: Chima Okoli and Mike Farrell at tackle; and DeOn'tae Pannel and John Urschel at guard.

UNANSWERED QUESTION: Now that what turned out to be an awful season is over, how long will it take for Penn State to turn the page by naming a new head coach.

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