- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Penn State's once-promising season ended with a thud, while Houston quarterback Case Keenum capped a record-setting career with a brilliant performance.
Here's a look at the 2012 TicketCity Bowl.
How the game was won: Houston's offense came out hot, piling up 17 first-quarter points against a Penn State defense that entered the game allowing just 15.7 points per game. Keenum set the tone with two third-down conversions on the game's opening possession and made brilliant throws and decisions all afternoon. The Penn State defense settled down in the final three quarters, but sophomore quarterback Rob Bolden struggled in his first start since Oct. 22, completing only 7 of 25 pass attempts for 137 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. A Houston defense that couldn't stop Southern Miss' run game in the Conference USA championship game contained Silas Redd and the Penn State ground attack. The Cougars opened up a 27-7 lead and staved off a brief Penn State comeback to win.
Player of the game: Houston's Keenum. The senior went out with a bang, completing 45 of 69 passes for 532 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. He picked apart a Penn State team that entered the game ranked fourth nationally against the pass. Keenum got plenty of help from receivers Patrick Edwards and Justin Johnson, who combined for 21 catches, 376 yards and three touchdowns.
Unsung hero of the game: Cougars safety Nick Saenz. He recorded a career-best two interceptions, doubling his total from the previous 13 games. Although Bolden made it fairly easy on both throws, credit Saenz for making the plays for a Houston defense that played well.
Stat of the game: Keenum’s 45 completions and 69 attempts marked the most by a Penn State bowl opponent. Bolden, who started Penn State’s first seven games at quarterback, entered the bowl with only 46 completions.
Sideline spectator: Arguably no Penn State player felt worse about the result than quarterback Matthew McGloin, who missed the game with a concussion he sustained during a locker-room fight with teammate Curtis Drake. Although McGloin had his struggles as well this season, he would have been a better option than Bolden, who has been out of the mix for so long and looked very rusty.
What it means for Houston: The Cougars won a team-record 13 games and won just their second bowl game in the past 10 tries. They performed well despite losing their coach, Kevin Sumlin, to Texas A&M and rebounded from a lousy performance in the Conference USA championship game. While Houston fans certainly have to wonder what might have been after the league title game loss cost the team a BCS bowl berth, they have to be pleased with the result, especially Keenum.
What it means for Penn State: The loss closes the book on the toughest three-month stretch in program history. The Lions didn't look sharp for much of the game and never put themselves in position to win. After holding its own in the two games after coach Joe Paterno's firing, Penn State seemed to show the effects of all the drama in its losses to Wisconsin and Houston. The McGloin locker-room fight added an unnecessary burden entering the bowl. Penn State might now move forward with a new head coach, yet to be named. The defense returns some nice pieces, but there's a lot of work to be done on offense, particularly under center.
1362dAndrea Adelson and Brian Bennett