Cougars claw Nittany Lions to finish 13-1

On January 2, 2012, the Houston Cougars pounded Penn State in the 2012 Ticket City Bowl, 30-14. The score does not accurately portray the outright thrashing the Coogs put on the Nittany Lions.

Following a perfect regular season, the Cougars endured an emotional week with an upset loss in the Conference USA Championship Game, a Big East invitation, and head coach Kevin Sumlin leaving for Texas A&M. Special teams coach Tony Levine had been made interim head coach, and was then promoted to the full-time job just a week before UH left for Dallas.

Offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, himself leaving for A&M after the game, worked with quarterback Case Keenum to devise a ‘spread ’em out’ game plan that the plodding Big Ten team could not counter. Once the ball was kicked off, Case and the Cougars unleashed their frustrations on Penn State.

The game was over before it started. In his final collegiate game, Keenum set an NCAA bowl record with 227 passing yards in the first quarter. Case went 20/29 with two scores in the opening quarter, and UH ran it just once. Houston held a 17-0 lead after the first 15 minutes.

On the opening drive, Keenum found Patrick Edwards on 3rd and 10 for 39 yards and then again on 3rd and 13 for a 40-yard touchdown.

Edwards finished the game with ten catches for 228 yards and two touchdowns, and Justin Johnson had 12 for 148 yards and a score. Tyron Carrier, who left in the second quarter with an injury, already had nine catches. Keenum had a brilliant game, going 45/69 for 532 yards and three touchdown passes.

UH could have named the score but went conservative in the second half after leading 24-7 at the break. The Houston defense held Penn State to six three-and-outs in the first half. Even after stepping off the gas, the Coogs piled up 600 yards of offense.

The events around the game were surreal at times. Penn State was less than two months removed from the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal unfolding and the subsequent firing of Joe Paterno. Some Nittany Lion fans wore shirts and held signs in support of Paterno. Westboro Baptist Church picketed outside the Cotton Bowl, and a UT messageboard poster came dressed as the internet meme “Pedobear” with a sign that said, “Keep quiet and don’t tell anyone.”

Meanwhile, Houston dominated the game. Keenum threw for 380 yards in the first half, while Penn State had just 306 yards for the game. Kicker Matt Hogan, a contributor, nearly outscored the Nittany Lions alone. PSU beat him 14-12. UH finished the year 13-1 and ranked #14 in the Coaches Poll and 18th in the AP.

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