DALLAS -- Houston's high-octane offense was able to move the ball with relative ease against Penn State as the Cougars earned a 30-14 victory in the TicketCity Bowl at the Cotton Bowl.
How the game was won: Houston's passing attack was just too much for Penn State. The Nittany Lions came in a bit stingy through the air, allowing just 162 yards of passing per game. But Houston quarterback Case Keenum had 227 yards in the first quarter. Houston didn't run the ball much, but didn't need to. Keenum was able to find holes in the Penn State secondary and it didn't take the Cougars long to score. He had 380 yards at the half and just kept flinging it in the second half.
Turning point: Penn State stopped the Cougars on fourth down at the Nittany Lion 25-yard line with about three minutes left in the half, but then stalled. Houston used its timeouts and got the ball back with 1:02 left. Keenum needed just 24 seconds to turn a 10-point game into a 24-7 lead. He threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Patrick Edwards. It was Edwards' second touchdown of the day and he had 200 yards receiving in the first half.
Player of the game: This wasn't a tough choice. Keenum ended his career in impressive fashion. He had 380 yards at the half and early in the fourth quarter went over the 500-yard mark. It was his sixth 500-yard passing game in his career. He finished with 532 yards, short of his career-high of 559 against Southern Miss in 2009. A few drops cost Keenum even more yardage. But he was on target, as usual. He added three touchdowns to his ledger, bringing his career total to 155 touchdown passes. The senior was the all-time leading passer in NCAA history with 18,685 yards coming into the game.
Unsung hero: As it usually the case when you rack up yardage at the clip that Houston does, the defense is forgotten. But they deserve a ton of credit for Houston's win on Monday. The Cougar defense did not allow Penn State to get any momentum. Each time it appeared Penn State might get something going, the Cougar defense made a play. It took more than 16 minutes for the Nittany Lions to even get a first down. If we've got to pick out one player, a shout out to senior strong safety Nick Saenz, who had two interceptions. Kent Brooks and Marcus McGraw both had double-digit tackles.
Key stat: Patrick Edwards had 10 catches for 228 receiving yards for Houston. He had 200 of those yards at the half, including two touchdowns.
What it means for Houston: The Cougars end the season at 13-1, with the only loss coming to Southern Miss in the Conference USA championship game. Houston lost its coach, Kevin Sumlin, to Texas A&M, but the high-powered Cougar offense behind Keenum didn't miss a beat. Tom Levine, named Houston's coach on Dec. 21, had a nice first game in charge and the Cougar defense was solid against Penn State's rushing attack. The win should give Houston some nice momentum during recruiting and into 2012, when they'll lose Keenum and will have to adjust to some new coaches. When the game ended, the Houston players mobbed Levine in celebration and dumped water on him.
What it means for Penn State: A difficult season is over. Penn State had to deal with all kinds of distractions resulting from the allegations against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. The players did their best to focus on what was happening on the field, but on Monday, they couldn't stop the Houston passing game. Penn State finishes at 9-4 and the loss will likely knock them out of the top-25. The Nittany Lions must regroup as a program, find a new coach and try to put the 2011 season behind them.