January 02, 2012
Ticket City Bowl: Houston 30, Penn State 14.
When the TicketCity Bowl was over, Case Keenum climbed through the stands and played conductor, leading the band in the school song. It was the encore performance to Keenum's swan's song, which he orchestrated to perfection as the Cougars used their high-octane offense to hand Penn State one final embarrassment in a forgettable season.
Keenum — already the NCAA's career leader in terms of yards and touchdowns — was in peak form, throwing for 532 yards, the second-most passing yards ever against a Penn State defense (BYU's Ty Detmer had put up 576 in the 1989 Holiday Bowl). He completed 45 of 69 passes, more than anyone has attempted in Division I this season. In Keenum's last game, the Cougars made sure they got every last drop from the most prolific right arm in college football history.
"I couldn't ask for much better right here," Keenum said of the way he wanted his career to end. "In the Cotton Bowl with all my friends, my teammates, a great U-of-H crowd, it's a great day. I'm going to remember this for a long time."
For Penn State, it was an ignominious ending to their season. The Nittany Lions, who came into the game ranked 10th in total defense and fourth nationally against the pass, allowed 600 yards of total offense for the first time since allowing 602 to a stacked Miami team in 2001. They hadn't allowed more than 500 to any opponent in the past five seasons.
From the opening kick, Keenum carved up the Penn State secondary with a bowl record 227 first-quarter yards and a score. The defensive line that even Keenum said he was worried about hardly appeared in Houston's backfield. Keenum completed more passes today than Penn State completed in the entire month of November (thanks @dennisdoddCBS).
And it wasn't that Penn State wasn't into the game, the Nittany Lions were just beaten by a better team. Penn State had never faced an offense as fast and as passing proficient as Houston and it showed. Houston limited Penn State quarterback Rob Bolden to just seven completions and three interceptions while Bolden completed just 26 percent of his passes.
"You look at a Big Ten team, one of the best in their conference there, top-10 defense in the country and look what we did," said Keenum, who had thrown just three touchdowns and seven interceptions in three previous bowl appearances. "You can't deny that."
While it was a fine ending for Houston and Keenum, it was also bittersweet knowing they were one game away from playing on a much bigger stage in a BCS bowl. If the Cougars had played as well against Southern Miss in the Conference USA championship, the Cougars might have been preparing to play Michigan in the Sugar Bowl.
But Houston made the most of where it ended up and finished the season 13-1, a school record for wins. And Keenum, facing arguably the best defense he's seen as an amateur, raised some eyebrows as he looks forward to the next step.
Other popular stories on Yahoo! Sports:
• Carpenter: 'Tebow Mystique' evaporating for Broncos
• 2012 MLB season: What's ahead from A to Z
• Dennis Rodman's next career move is a racy one