DALLAS -- Before the game, Penn State interim coach Tom Bradley had a simple goal for his team -- survive the first quarter. Bradley knew the long layoff didn't bode well for his defense against the high-powered Houston offense.
Well, the Nittany Lions didn't survive the first quarter. Instead, Houston quarterback Case Keenum added to his collection of records to lead the Cougars to a 30-14 victory over Penn State on Monday in the TicketCity Bowl at Cotton Bowl Stadium.
"Obviously we didn't survive the first quarter," said Bradley, who would have given his team an "F" for the opening quarter.
Houston scored on the opening drive of the game. Facing third-and-13 from the PSU 40, Keenum threw a 40-yard strike to Patrick Edwards on a go route for a 7-0 lead.
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The Cougars added a field goal on their next drive, as Keller product Matt Hogan connected on a 35-yarder. Houston then extended its lead to 17-0 with a 50-yard scoring drive, capped with an 8-yard TD pass from Keenum to Justin Johnson.
Keenum finished the quarter completing 21 of 29 passes for 227 yards -- the most in the first quarter of a bowl game -- and two touchdowns.
"It set a huge tone," Keenum said. "That was big, especially in bowl games where you take a lot of time off to get things rolling early, it's really important."
Keenum finished the game 45 of 69 for 532 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He is the ninth player to throw for more than 500 yards in a bowl game, and the 45 completions are the second-most in a bowl game.
"It's just an awesome day," said Keenum, the game's MVP. "I'm going to remember this forever, all the guys will. I couldn't think of a better way to go out."
After Penn State pulled to within 17-7 in the second quarter, Houston answered yet again.
Keenum found an open Edwards in the middle of the field for what developed into a 75-yard TD catch-and-run and a 24-7 lead. By halftime, Keenum had thrown for 380 yards, while Edwards had 200 receiving yards.
Houston pushed its lead to 27-7 with a field goal in the third quarter, but Penn State scored on its ensuing drive with a 69-yard TD pass from Rob Bolden to Justin Brown. However, that would be all the Nittany Lions offense could muster against the Cougars' defense.
Arlington Bowie's Marcus McGraw finished with a team-high 10 tackles, and will leave Houston as the all-time tackles leader with 509. McGraw said the defense executed its game plan all day.
"We wanted to get them in second and third-and-long situations, and we were able to do that," McGraw said. "Our defense played a physical game."
Afterward, the Cougars gave coach Tony Levine a Gatorade shower. At that moment, Levine said he finally felt like a head coach.
As Houston rejoiced, Penn State ended a tumultuous season.
The Nittany Lions' season was rocked two months ago when legendary coach Joe Paterno was fired midseason in the wake of child sex-abuse charges filed against longtime defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
Bradley has interviewed for the job, and maintained that he will work and recruit until the school tells him otherwise.
"I want these players to know those coaches, those managers, those trainers, everybody there fought 'til the end," Bradley said. "Ten years from now, they're going to say, 'Hey, maybe it didn't work out for them.' We don't know that yet. I want them to respect every one of us. All those guys weren't looking for jobs. They weren't running around doing other things. They were busting their tails to help this team win this bowl game.
"I'm proud of them and I'm thankful for the effort they gave me."
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760