The Houston Cougars didn't just win a football game yesterday. They didn't just win a bowl game yesterday. The Houston Cougars went out and defeated a ranked team from the almighty Big 10, and they did so in a convincing fashion, downing the Penn State Nittany Lions 30-14.
The Cougars put 17 points up on the scoreboard in the first quarter alone, embarrassing the highly ranked Penn State defense time and time again. First with Case Keenum hitting Patrick Edwards on a 40-yard bomb just 1:52 into the game. Then came a Matt Hogan field goal and an eight-yard Keenum TD pass to Justin Johnson. The fun continued in the second quarter when Keenum hit Edwards on another bomb, this one a 75-yard beauty that made the score 24-7.
But it wasn't all the UH offense. The Penn State offense failed to generate a first down in the first quarter, and didn't even get one until early in the second quarter. Keenum threw for 227 yards in the first quarter and Edwards had 112 receiving yards in the first. Penn State generated just 55 total yards of offense for the entire first half.
New head coach Tony Levine and his staff generated fantastic game plans for the offense and defense. The defensive game plan consisted of stacking the box, daring the run-heavy Penn State offense to throw the ball. The plan worked to perfection.
On offense, the Cougars had just variations of one play: the pass. Pass long, pass short. In the slot. To the sideline. Let the receivers catch the ball and do their work, especially since Penn State played a Cover Two defense and played soft on the receivers.
"Great game plan," Keenum said. "We had that game plan from the first week we watched film. I thought Coach [Kliff] Kingsbury and our offense coaches did a great job getting our guys in space, mixing up our quick game and taking a few shots downfield. And then we were able to step off some short screens."
By the time the game ended, Keenum, the game MVP, had thrown for 532 yards on 69 passing attempts, completing 45 and hitting three touchdowns. He also set numerous team, TicketCity, Cotton Bowl stadium, and national bowl game records including: the NCAA record for most passing yards in one quarter, Cotton Bowl Stadium (TicketCity Bowl) records for most plays in a game, most total yards in a game, most passing attempts in a game, most completions in a game, and most passing yards in a game.
This Cougar team that manhandled Penn State was the Houston team that stormed through the Conference-USA season, going 12-0 and setting up the chance for a BCS bowl before the heartbreaking loss to Southern Miss in the C-USA title game. So this team set out to prove those 12 wins weren't a fluke of the schedule, and they proved their point by taking out a Penn State team that had one of the top defenses in the country.
"Our kids wanted to go out against a really, really tremendous opponent in a January bowl game on a national stage and show the country that our loss a month ago in the championship game was not the norm, that it was a fluke, not the 12 wins leading up to it," Levine said.
And as well as the defense played, the offense was a beauty. Receivers were open everywhere all day. The offensive line gave Keenum all the time he needed to find his receivers, and the receivers had tons of green space to run in after making the catches.
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There will probably still be doubters. Those critics who say the Cougars season was a fluke. That they would have been demolished if they made a BCS Bowl. And the detractors will probably say this game proves nothing, what with all of the distractions going on around Penn State this season.
But the Cougars were beset by distractions this past month, too. And they set aside those distractions and played their game of the season, demolishing a ranked opponent before a national audience. They beat a squad that should have been able to dominate them physically, and probably had the better players, more highly recruited players.
It may just be the TicketCity Bowl, but the Cougars are winners. And they won this game without a single doubt. So criticize all you want because right now, the Cougars don't care. Instead, the question should probably be: How in the hell did Penn State manage to win nine games this season?
MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: The Cougars are now 9-11-1 all-time in bowl games....The Cougars are now 3-2 when playing a bowl game at the Cotton Bowl....They're the first C-USA team to ever finish with 13 wins....Keenum became the first UH starting QB to win multiple bowl games....Justin Johnson set a UH bowl record with 12 receptions, and Patrick Edwards set a UH bowl record with 228 receiving yards....Keenum is just the ninth player in NCAA history to throw for 500-plus yards in a bowl game....The only other player to ever throw for more than 500 yards on a Penn State defense is Doug Flutie.