Houston's passing game gouges Penn State
DALLAS — Concerned about adjusting to Houston's berserker-like offensive pace, Penn State found itself blasted by an old-fashioned, Texas-sized bomb in the TicketCity Bowl on Monday.
Record-setting Houston quarterback Case Keenum's 75-yard spiraling beauty landed in the grip of wide-open receiver Patrick Edwards, who continued his sprint into the end zone with less than two minutes before halftime.
The Nittany Lions held Houston's offense to six second-half points, but that late second-quarter connection between Keenum and Edwards proved pivotal in a 30-14 victory at Cotton Bowl Stadium.
"Just broke our back," Penn State interim coach Tom Bradley said.
That was the plan for Houston (13-1): Attack Penn State's defense with quick calls, quicker decisions by Keenum and, when opportunities presented themselves, quick deep strikes between the hashes.
Keenum was an easy-call MVP after finishing 45 of 69 for 532 yards and three touchdowns.
"The best quarterback I've ever faced," Penn State outside linebacker Nathan Stupar said.
It probably didn't help that Keenum had the ball first.
Penn State won the coin toss and deferred to the second half. Twice on that first drive, the Nittany Lions placed the Cougars in third-and-long situations, and Keenum's responses were completions of 39 and 40 yards to Edwards — the latter a touchdown toss.
"It set a huge tone," Keenum said. "I looked over, and Patrick was actually calling the play. He saw the coverage, knew what he wanted."
Keenum, a sixth-year eligible senior and already the NCAA record-holder in passing, touchdown passes, total offense and total touchdowns, set an NCAA bowl record with 227 passing yards in the opening quarter.
Penn State had surrendered only 162.2 passing yards per game, and only Wisconsin topped the century mark in that category in three games after Bradley replaced Joe Paterno — who was fired Nov. 9 — and handed off most of his previous defensive coordinator duties to Larry Johnson.
"The ball was out so fast. ... We knew that going in," Johnson said of Keenum and Houston's offense. "It's a faster pace than you can really practice."
Penn State (9-4) played with backup quarterback Rob Bolden, whose throws were errant early. The Nittany Lions did not register a first down until early in the second quarter, but they trailed only 17-7 before Keenum and his speedy receivers took possession at Houston's 16 with 2:07 before halftime.
Two throws later — including Keenum's bomb to Edwards — the Cougars led 24-7.
Bolden completed seven passes for Penn State.
Keenum recorded double-digit completions to three receivers — a game-high 12 to Justin Johnson.
"You can count on (Keenum) to get the ball into your hands," Johnson said. "Our coaches had a great game plan for us to get open against their defense, and we really took advantage of it."