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Sunday, January 1, 2012
TicketCity Bowl: Three Keys

By Andrea Adelson

You saw the preview and prediction. Now here are three keys for Houston (12-1) against Penn State (9-3) in the TicketCity Bowl on Monday.

1. Get motivated. The big question is whether or not Houston will be able to get up for this game. The Cougars were a win away from getting to the first BCS game in school history, but lost to Southern Miss in the Conference USA championship game. That was such a devastating loss. To go from potential BCS spot to this game has got to be a letdown. Plus, Houston will be without the coach that got them there. Kevin Sumlin left to become head coach at Texas A&M. Assistant Tony Levine was promoted, so everybody gets to see how he does in his first ever game as a head coach.

2. Protect Case Keenum. One of the biggest contributing factors in the Cougars' upset loss to Southern Miss in the Conference USA championship game was the way the offensive line struggled to protect Case Keenum. He was only sacked twice, but he was on the run from the pass rush for a majority of the game. Now Penn State arrives with top-notch defensive tackle Devon Still ready to wreak havoc. Penn State has 26 sacks on the season and should have an advantage in this category. Still has been battling turf toe, so that could be an advantage for Houston if he is not 100 percent.

3. Strike with big pass plays. Houston ranks No. 1 in the nation in passing offense, and will face a huge test in a Penn State defense that ranks No. 5 against the pass. Penn State only has given up two touchdowns of 20-plus yards this season, while Houston has 29. Houston might have a speed advantage, so if the Cougars can protect Keenum, players like Patrick Edwards might have an opportunity to get free. Keenum has to watch for safety Nick Sukay, a second-team Big Ten selection. Penn State had 14 interceptions on the season and Southern Miss showed that with pressure, Keenum can be forced into making mistakes.