The 2011 Penn State football season has limped to a merciful end. The Lions struggled beyond description, yet managed to win for three-quarters of the football season, before having the rug pulled from beneath them when The Thing happened. Yesterday, as a team relegated to a lower-tier bowl game after being demolished in a play-in game for the Big Ten Championship, they couldn't have been more aligned with the most likely of scenarios against a uniquely talented Houston team.
They showed up late and unmotivated. Their shattered quarterback played like a shattered quarterback. The offensive line, which had been bad-to-fair most of the season, couldn't push around a Conference-USA defensive front seven. The lack of offensive support didn't help a PSU defense that was mostly unable to adapt to Houston's pace and formations. With very few exceptions, it appeared that the players and coaching didn't care and just wanted this whole thing to be over, too.
Some media reaction from around the Commonwealth:
Jeff Rice, Centre Daily Times - PSU not in same league with Houston:
Yes, the scoreboard will tell you that the Nittany Lions fell by just two scores (30-14) in their 2011 finale. But this game was not that close. It might not have even been as close as Penn State’s 45-7 loss at Wisconsin in late November. This game was, as Penn State coach Tom Bradley had predicted (and probably feared) it would be, decided by the end of the first quarter, and it was a mismatch. This was the modern game versus the old guard, titanium clubs versus persimmon, Blu Ray versus VHS.
A Penn State defense that had, for the most part, held in check Alabama’s AJ McCarron and a slew of less-than-dynamic Big Ten passers (OK, Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson had some serious game) looked like teenage drivers that had cruised around the suburbs with ease but looked utterly lost when they had to merge onto the freeway, where the Cougars pulled up alongside them, nodded politely and left them in a cloud of exhaust.
Rich Scarcella, Reading Eagle - Coaches ponder futures after Penn State bowl loss:
Eight Penn State football coaches with 147 seasons of experience officially began to twist in the wind at 2:36 p.m. Central time, when the bizarre 2011 season ended. Their lives and their jobs are up in the air because Penn State acting athletic director Dave Joyner has yet to hire a permanent coach to replace Hall of Famer Joe Paterno, who was fired in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
"A lot of things flashed back," co-defensive coordinator Larry Johnson said. "I've been here 17 years and I've had a great time here at Penn State. You think about it being the last time in Penn State coaching gear. You think about that and reflect on that."
Some wore blank expressions. Others, like Johnson and Jay Paterno, wore their emotions on their sleeves.
"We understand this is a business," Johnson said. "When you bring in a new staff, that new guy brings in everybody he wants. You have to be prepared for that. That's the nature of the beast. No matter what I've done at Penn State, it's the preference of a new coach coming in. If I have to move on, that's what I have to do. If it's the right situation, I'd love to stay. I'd want to make sure our kids are taken care of. Those guys deserve the best."
Whether interim coach Tom Bradley or somebody else is hired, Johnson and Paterno said the next coach will take over a job that's better than many believe.
"I think the program's in great shape," Johnson said. "We have to move forward. That's what we have to do. It's unfortunate that from the outside it looks like it's falling apart, but we have some great kids in that locker room. Those kids will be back. Whoever gets the job is going to inherit some great young men. They want to win. That's why they came here."
Paterno and Bradley said they plan to go on the road later this week to recruit. Johnson said he wasn't sure about his plans.
Tom Spousta, New York Times - Triumph for Houston Comes at Penn State’s Expense:
Houston’s victory only added to the apprehension around the Penn State program. The Nittany Lions lose 23 seniors from this season’s team, and the effect that the sexual abuse scandal at the university may have on recruiting and decisions by underclassmen to seek transfers remains unclear.
Before the kickoff, about 40 people gathered outside the stadium to protest Penn State’s participation in the game. Inside, a Nittany Lions fan showed support for Paterno with a sign that read, "We ♥ Joe Pa."
It was a polarizing scene, one that symbolized Penn State’s season.
"I’m a Penn Stater through and through; I’m always going to bleed blue and white," [Nate] Stupar said. "I live in State College — it’s not like it’s going anywhere for me. I just hope they pick an awesome candidate. Start over and start new, from the ground up."
Bob Flounders, Harrisburg Patriot-News - Cougars' passing game carves up Penn State in a 30-14 TicketCity Bowl win:
Time after time, the Cougar receivers easily found the soft spots in the Big Ten entry's cautious coverage, exploiting it over and over again.
So there was one lesson -- no one should have read too much into PSU's celebrated pass defense. The Lions were ranked fifth nationally, allowing just 162 yards a game coming in. Don't let the fact that PSU had only faced one quality QB -- Wisconsin dual-threat Russell Wilson -- in the regular season.
Keenum, using a lot of three-step drops, got the ball away so fast that there was no time to rush, something PSU's front, led by All-American defensive tackle Devon Still -- who wasn't himself Monday due to an injured left big toe -- and junior nose man Jordan Hill, had done so impressively in Big Ten play.
Mark Wogenrich, Allentown Morning-Call: Keenum quickly dashes Penn State's hopes at TicketCity Bowl:
Penn State's team traveling party is scheduled to leave Dallas on Tuesday morning, and interim head coach Tom Bradley reiterated his intent to visit recruits Wednesday. Still, there was a sense of finality for players and coaches after the game.
"These seniors are moving on, and I don't know what in the world is going to happen to the rest of us," offensive coordinator Galen Hall said. "I'm going to miss those guys. I'm sorry it turned out this way for them."
Players said last week that they hoped a victory would boost morale for a team that has dealt with such drama and still has no sense of what's next. Then, Keenum threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Edwards on Houston's opening series, touching off a quick beginning to the end.
David Jones, Harrisburg Patriot-News - For Case Keenum and Houston Cougars, it was shooting fish in a barrel against Penn State:
When Tony Levine, head coaching his first game, looked at the first disc of Penn State game recording, he said it took him about two plays to see what needed to be done. He was trying to be nice actually, saying how tough PSU's defensive front and powerful running game looked. But his diplomacy rang a little hollow after a 30-14 rout of the Nittany Lions.
Houston took the PSU front four out of the game, strafed a secondary locked in zone coverage throughout the first half and built a big lead that was pretty easy to protect against a Lion quarterback lacking any confidence or aplomb. Levine knows about Penn State. He played wideout for Minnesota in the early '90s. And, really, not a lot has changed in the program's style since then.
Keenum couldn't be pressured mostly because he knew exactly what he wanted to do and it was available throughout the first half: Run his four or five wides directly to the seams of Penn State's traditional zone and sit them down. Spread the defense horizontally and use the field's entire width. Run shallow crossing routes under the linebackers. Get his little wideouts in open spaces and get them the ball without delay so they didn't take hits flush. And then when the secondary finally cheated up, loop a couple over their heads.
"Great gameplan," said Keenum. "We had that gameplan from the first week we watched film. The coaches did a great job of getting our guys in space, mixing up our quick game and then taking a couple shots downfield. And when you've got a lot of fast guys, it makes my job a lot easier."