DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 02: Chima Okoli #52, John Urschel #64, Matt Stankiewitch #54 and Johnnie Troutman #74 of the Penn State Nittany Lions during the TicketCity Bowl at Cotton Bowl Stadium on January 2, 2012 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
How did the Nittany Lions fare against the Cougars?
Penn State fell to 9-4 as it ended its season on Monday with a 30-14 loss against Houston in the TicketCity Bowl at Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas. Here's a look at who played well and not-so-well as the 2011 season came to an end.
Quarterbacks: Sophomore Rob Bolden made some nice throws, including a beautiful deep ball to Derek Moye that was dropped, and a majestic 69-yard touchdown to Justin Brown in the third quarter, but otherwise had a brutal day, finishing 7-for-26 for 137 yards, the touchdown and three interceptions. Considering he spent a lot of practice time in limbo as the coaches waited to see if Matthew McGloin would recover from his injury, that's not altogether surprising, but regardless, it was clear he was not ready to lead the Nittany Lions against the Cougars. Grade: D
Running Backs: Penn State's utter lack of a passing attack made it hard for the backs to find much space on the ground. Stephfon Green led the Lions with just 63 yards on 15 carries, a 4.2 yards per carry average, while Silas Red slid in just behind him with 53 yards on 14 carries. That's not all on the passing game, though. These two didn't find much space on the first few drives, even before Penn State's passing game was exposed, which led to three early three-and-outs. Grade: C
Receivers: The game was Drop City for this group. Senior Derek Moye, as mentioned above, dropped a great deep ball from McGloin and proceeded to be a non-factor in his final collegiate game. Devon Smith broke past the Houston coverage a number of times, but drops caused him to finish the day with just two catches for 49 yards. And Justin Brown was missing in action most of the way, save for his big score. Bolden had a tough day, but it could have been a lot better had his receivers helped him out just a little bit. Grade: D
Offensive Line: Houston's defensive front lacked the size and athleticism of Penn State's offensive line and the Lions were still unable to impose their will. Again, the lack of a passing game made it hard to run, but even early, before it was clear Penn State's air attack was going to be impotent, this group couldn't open up many lanes for the backs as the offense struggled to get a first down. This is the same group that pounded a bigger and far more athletic Ohio State front for four quarters at the Horseshoe, so it's fairly easy to arrive at the conclusion that it could have done more at the Cotton Bowl. Grade: C-
Defensive Line: Houston quarterback Case Keenum's quick release and the Cougars' refusal to run the ball took Penn State's defensive front, led by All-American defensive tackle Devon Still, out of the game by design. With that in mind, its hard to get too worked up about the lack of production from this group that otherwise had a productive season from start to finish. That said, considering Keenum was back to pass as frequently as he was, it's fair to wonder if Penn State could have been a little bit more disruptive than it was considering, again, Penn State's players were generally bigger and more athletic than their opponents. Grade: C
Linebackers: Houston tried to take this unit's strength out of the game as well by throwing almost constantly. And though its hard to blame many of the deep scores on the linebackers, the unit's inability to defend the short and underneath routes, which were Keenum and Co.'s bread and butter most of the day, was a disappointing development. Grade: C-
Secondary: Any time a team throws 69 passes in a game, as the Cougars did in the TicketCity Bowl, a secondary is going to give up yardage, so Keenum's 532 yards and three touchdowns on 45-for-69 passing aren't altogether terrible in and of themselves. It was the big plays and lack thereof that killed this unit. Houston's first touchdown was a 40-yard connection between Keenum and Patrick Edwards. Later on, the two hooked up for a 75-yard score after Penn State safety Drew Astorino slipped. Right there is the difference between 30-14 and 16-14, folks. Those are haymakers, and making matters worse was the Lions' inability to make a big play of their own, forcing no turnovers. Some will say Penn State used a flawed "bend-but-don't-break" gameplan for the defensive backfield, but it's worth noting Houston was averaging 50 points per game entering. That Penn State held the Cougars to 30 is a testament to something working schematically. But those two big breakdowns and lack of big defensive plays were just too much to overcome, plain and simple. Grade: D
Special Teams: Anthony Fera shanked a couple of punts badly, but Justin Brown almost made up for it with an electrifying punt return that went for 93 yards and a touchdown before being called back after a replay ruled Brown had stepped out of bounds. Other than that, not a whole lot of opportunities for this group to do much. Grade: C+