Penn State offense can’t keep pace, defense can’t catch breath
Case Keenum passed for more yards than any other opposing quarterback Penn State has faced, and the Nittany Lions dropped their second straight bowl game. Houston jumped on top early and kept Penn State at arm’s length for the entire game in a 30-14 decision.
Keenum passed for 532 yards and three touchdowns while completing 45 of his 609 pass attempts. Fifth-year senior Patrick Edwards was the go-to receiver, with 228 receiving yards and two touchdowns, including a wide-open 75-yard score after a Penn State defender slipped in coverage. Keenum and Edwards got things rolling early with a 40-yard score on the game’s opening possession. Edwards’ 75-yard reception gave Houston a little extra push late in the first half, as Penn State’s offense struggled to do much of anything all day long.
Rob Bolden started under center for the Nittany Lions, and he had another rough outing. Bolden was intercepted three times, and had a handful of other passes that probably should have been intercepted. As was the case earlier in the year, some of the better passes Bolden threw were dropped by his intended receivers as well. Bolden finished the day completing seven of 26 pass attempts, including one touchdown play of 69 yards to Justin Brown. It was Brown’s only catch of the day, and Penn State’s leading receiver, Derek Moye, only touched the football once in the game, on a punt return of 21 yards in the second half.
Bolden passed for 137 yards. Two Houston receivers had more yardage through the air, with Edwards leading the way and Justin Johnson catching a game-high 12 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown.
Penn State’s running game, thought to be a strength in this game, finished with 168 yards, with senior Stephfon Green leading the team with 63 yards and a touchdown and Silas Redd ending his day with an injury and 53 yards. Redd limped off the field in the third quarter and was examined by the team’s medical staff. He did not return.
Penn State’s top defensive player, defensive tackle Devon Still, was also hindered by injury. Still, battling turf toe, was at 50 percent and was a non-factor in the game for Penn State. Still was limited from the start, and never was able t bring any consistent pressure to Keenum, which allowed Houston to focus more on the rest of the defensive line.
“I was disappointed with the way we played,” interim head coach Tom Bradley said after the game. Weary of the big play potential Houston brings to the table, Bradley said “We didn’t survive it,” early on in the game, when Penn State dug a 17-0 hole before managing to pick up a first down.
“These kids have been through Hell and back,” Jay Paterno said of the players. Paterno, aware that this may have been his final game on the Penn State sidelines was visibly emotional during a post-game interview and his eyes were watery as he walked off the field, soaking it all in.
The fact is this may have been the last game coached at Penn State for a number of the coaches, who now see their future on shaky ground with uncertainty surrounding the head coaching position. Bradley remains focused on recruiting and says he intends to continue recruiting and selling potential student athletes on the university. Names continue to be thrown around as potential candidates, but there have been few confirmations to take seriously. For now, the search is still on, whether it includes Bradley or not.
Keenum set a new NCAA bowl record for passing yards in a bowl game, in addition to breaking a Penn State opponent record for passing yards in a game.
The 30-14 loss is the worst Penn Sate bowl loss since losing to Clemson in the 1988 Citrus Bowl against Clemson, 35-10.
Penn State has now allowed 30 points or more in three of their last four bowl games.
Penn State was not the only Big Ten team to lose on January 2. Nebraska lost to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl and Ohio State lost to Florida in the Gator Bowl.