Let's take a look at three keys for Penn State in the Nittany Lions' Ticket City Bowl matchup against Houston:
1. Get physical: Houston scored more points than any college football team this year and has the NCAA's all-time leading passer in Case Keenum. But the Cougars are also a spread team that played a weak schedule. They have not seen a defense anywhere near as strong or as physical as Penn State's. The best way to stop a spread offense is to push it around, especially in the trenches. All-American defensive tackle Devon Still should have a field day disrupting Houston's timing if he brings the same intensity he showed all season. The Nittany Lions' corners also need to knock receivers off their routes at the line of scrimmage. If it's a wide-open type of game, then Houston has a great chance. If it's a Big Ten-style street fight, Penn State should prevail.
2. Redd rover, Redd rover: Penn State's offensive game plan should be pretty simple: hand the ball to Silas Redd. He's one of the best tailbacks in the Big Ten and should be better after having time to heal some nagging injuries he dealt with down the stretch of the regular season. Houston allowed more than 171 yards per game on the ground during the year and got steamrolled by Southern Miss for 207 rushing yards in the C-USA championship game loss. Given that Penn State's quarterback situation is uncertain with Matt McGloin still recovering from a concussion and the shaky Rob Bolden potentially starting, the running game becomes even more important. The fact that it helps keep Keenum on the sidelines doesn't hurt, either.
3. Play with fire: Few people would be surprised if Penn State's players came out unfocused or unmotivated for this one. The Nittany Lions have weathered unimaginable adversity while trying to play through the Sandusky sex-abuse case and media circus. They still don't have a permanent head coach more than 50 days after Joe Paterno was fired. And the team made it publicly known how upset it was with its selection to the TicketCity Bowl rather than a bigger postseason game. The Lions will have to play far away from home against an opponent that has the home-state advantage. Watch how Penn State responds early if Keenum and the Cougars put up a quick score. The Nittany Lions likely have more talent across the board, but if they don't play like they want to be there, it won't matter.