- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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No. 19 Houston (12-1) takes on No. 22 Penn State (9-3) in the TicketCity Bowl on Monday in Dallas. Here is a quick preview:
WHO TO WATCH: Houston quarterback Case Keenum. What a career for the sixth-year senior, set to play his final game in a Houston uniform. Keenum will depart with NCAA records for passing yards, total offense, completions, passing touchdowns and 300-yard games. He also set a record with his third 5,000-yard season. Keenum had a performance to forget in the Conference USA championship game against Southern Miss, throwing two interceptions and completing a season-low 61 percent of his passes. You can bet he is going to want to leave on a better note.
WHAT TO WATCH: Houston's run defense. When we last saw the Cougars, their run defense was gashed for 207 yards in a loss to Southern Miss. It was the fifth time this season Houston had given up over 200 yards on the ground. Now they are preparing to play a team that is much better on the ground than in the pass game. Penn State running back Silas Redd has been a workhorse when healthy, and he says he is 100 percent going into this game.
WHY TO WATCH: Outside of the BCS games, this is one of a handful of games that features two ranked teams. Houston fell to this spot because it lost the C-USA title game; Penn State fell because of the scandal that has engulfed the school. This is actually a pretty classic matchup of a high-powered offense against a top-notch defense. Consider this nugget from ESPN Stats & Information: Houston had 29 touchdown passes of 20 or more yards this season, most in the FBS. Penn State allowed just two such touchdown passes all season.
PREDICTION: Penn State 24, Houston 21. While it is true Penn State has struggled putting points on the board this season, Houston has not played a defense as good as the Nittany Lions' this season. Penn State ranks No. 10 in the nation in total defense, and has Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Devon Still looming large on the line. The secondary has been outstanding at limiting the big plays, too. Houston struggled in pass protection and versus the run against Southern Miss, so I think Penn State will be able to take advantage of those two areas and win.