Dallas, Texas, January 1, 2012 – It is almost impossible to walk into Cotton Bowl Stadium and not have more than 80 years of football history wash over you.
From Doak Walker’s heroics for SMU during the 1940s to the NFL Championship game in 1966 to the early days of the Dallas Cowboys in the 1960s, the Cotton Bowl has played host to many of football’s greatest moments.
It is fitting that this year’s second annual TicketCity Bowl returns to the iconic stadium on Jan. 2 with a potential game for the ages: Houston’s high-scoring offense vs. Penn State’s stingy defense.
Houston (12-1) sports the most productive offense in the nation, averaging 599 yards a game, and quarterback Case Keenum is NCAA’s all-time leader in total passing yards, touchdowns and completions.
Penn State’s defense ranks fourth in the nation against the pass and fifth in scoring defense.
“I’d like to see a better matchup on paper than Houston and Penn State,” Houston’s interim head coach, Tony Levine, said. “I think it’s a matchup of two very distinct and different styles, really across the board. (It will be) our offense against their defense, their offense against our defense. They’re very physical in their style of play and in their stature. I said a couple weeks ago we have not played a team like Penn State all season. It’s a tremendous challenge for us as a coaching staff and obviously for our team.”
For Penn State (9-3), the preparations for Monday’s game begin and end with
trying to figure out how to reign in Keenum, who has thrown for 5,099 yards with 45 touchdowns and only five interceptions this season.
“I think the most impressive thing is anybody that can throw 45 touchdown passes (and) only five interceptions – that’s pretty darn good,” Penn State’s interim head coach, Tom Bradley, said of Keenum. “Watching stats roll across the TV last night from other quarterbacks, they’re not even in the same league as him. That’s the one thing that is going to be a big challenge for us.
“We can’t duplicate (with our scout team) what they do; it’s impossible. We are not used to doing that (and) we don’t have that many wideouts to do all that. Anytime you play a bowl game, you have to be able to survive the first quarter to get caught up to speed. We haven’t played now in five, six weeks. That’s one thing you worry about, getting lulled to sleep going against your scout team. You really tend not to get as good a look as you’re going to need to get because we can’t duplicate that kind of speed.”
Even Penn State’s defensive players are in awe of Keenum. Senior safety Drew Astorino said Houston’s offense will be unlike any the Nittany Lions have faced the past four seasons.
“Their offense is unlike anything we’ve seen in the Big 10,” Astorino said. “Case Keenum is probably the best quarterback in college football history. From a secondary’s perspective, we’re looking forward to playing him because it is a big challenge – they throw the ball everywhere, so we’re excited.
“He has five wide receivers out there so it’s tough to compare to him and his numbers to anybody I’ve ever seen because he’s number one out of all of them.”
Houston wide receiver Justin Johnson, one of three Cougars with more than 75 receptions and 900 receiving yards, is just as wary of Penn State’s defense.
“They have a great secondary and a great line,” Johnson said. “They get a lot of pressure on the quarterback. Those guys in the secondary do a great job of keeping everything in front of them, coming downhill and making tackles. It’s going to be a good challenge for us – a top defense going up against a top offense.”
And to top it off, the matchup will go down in historic Cotton Bowl Stadium.
“This venue is amazing,” said Johnson, a native of nearby Richardson, Texas. “I’ve always wanted to play here since I grew up in Dallas. We – myself and the other seniors – definitely want to go out on high note. Not a lot of people get a chance to have their last game in a place like this and make it count.”
In addition to two great teams and a classic venue, the weather for Monday’s TicketCity Bowl is expected to be outstanding. The forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 57 degrees and bowl officials are expecting a near-capacity crowd for the second installment of the TicketCity Bowl.
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