Pacing the Penn State sideline just the way his dad did for 46 seasons, Jay Paterno couldn’t help but wonder what JoePa might be doing back home in Happy Valley.
A 30-14 loss to Houston at the TicketCity Bowl yesterday in Dallas ended a tumultuous season for a program shrouded with uncertainty following the firing of a Hall of Fame coach in the aftermath of a child sex-abuse scandal that shook college sports.
“It wasn’t easy . . . It wasn’t easy on game day without him because you think about him,’’ said Jay Paterno, Penn State’s quarterbacks coach. “I always came to work knowing we had an ace up our sleeve in Joe because of all of his experience, so yeah it was tough.’’
The 24th-ranked Nittany Lions (9-4) were picked apart by Case Keenum and the 20th-ranked Cougars. He threw for 532 yards and three touchdowns, a dispiriting finish for a defense that was giving up 162 yards passing per game.
Keenum threw for more than double that by halftime. Now, Houston (13-1) gets to relish in the satisfaction of extending its school record for victories in a season.
Penn State must push forward still without a permanent head coach. Longtime defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who was appointed the interim coach after Paterno’s dismissal, is a candidate in a search that overshadowed the game itself.
“I thought the guys came out and they played hard. It’s been a difficult year for them,’’ Bradley said. “It just didn’t go our way.’’
Keenum (45 of 69 passing) burned the Nittany Lions’ veteran secondary with touchdown passes of 40 and 75 yards to build a 24-7 lead by halftime. He threw for 227 yards in the first quarter, the most in one quarter in any bowl game (breaking the mark of 223 yards by Louisville’s Browning Nagle against Alabama in the first quarter of the 1991 Fiesta Bowl), according to TicketCity Bowl officials.
It was Penn State’s first bowl game without Paterno as head coach since the 1962 Gator Bowl, a 17-7 loss to Florida.
Paterno was fired Nov. 9 by school trustees amid mounting criticism that school leaders should have done more to prevent the shocking abuse allegations against retired assistant Jerry Sandusky. He is awaiting trial after pleading not guilty last month.
Florida 24, Ohio State 17 - In Jacksonville, Fla., the Gators’ special teams came up big in the Gator Bowl, scoring twice as Florida beat the Buckeyes in a game between Urban Meyer’s old team and his future one.
Andre Debose returned a kickoff 99 yards - the longest scoring play in bowl history - and Chris Rainey blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown.
The speedsters helped the Gators (7-6) avoid their first losing season since 1979 and pick up some much-needed momentum after losing six of their previous eight games.
Ohio State (6-7) finished below .500 for the first time since 1986. Meyer officially takes over at Ohio State this week, but the Buckeyes won’t be bowl eligible next season because of NCAA sanctions stemming from players who exchanged jerseys, rings, and other team memorabilia for cash and tattoos.
Michigan State 33, Georgia 30 - Kirk Cousins threw for 300 yards and led a late rally to tie it, then Dan Conroy kicked a 28-yard field goal in the third overtime that lifted the 12th-ranked Spartans (11-3) over No. 18 Georgia (10-4) in the Outback Bowl in Tampa.
Georgia’s Blair Walsh became the Southeastern Conference’s career scoring leader with a field goal in the second extra period, but he missed a 42-yarder in the first overtime and had a 47-yard attempt blocked on the game’s final play.
South Carolina 30, Nebraska 13 - Alshon Jeffery had four catches for 148 yards and a touchdown before getting tossed out of the game for fighting, and the No. 11 Gamecocks (11-2) had six sacks and shut out No. 21 Nebraska (9-4) in the final three quarters of the Capital One Bowl in Orlando.