College Bowl roundup: Florida defense shines

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 2, 2012

Associated Press
Monday’s Bowl roundup…
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida’s Jaye Howard timed the snap perfectly, blew through two defenders and violently slammed Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller to the ground.
“I had a lot of frustrations, man,” Howard said. “Urban brought it out in me today.”
Urban Meyer’s future team got a good look at his former team, and the Buckeyes learned just how fast the Gators can be.
Florida’s defense and special teams came up big in the Gator Bowl, recording six sacks and scoring twice as the Gators beat Ohio State 24-17 on Monday.
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.
“We don’t want to be remembered as the team that lost, so it was a big game for us,” Howard said. “Not only for the seniors, but the program as a whole. It’s a building block for next year.”
Ohio State (6-7) dropped four straight to finish below .500 for the first time since 1988, and lost seven games for the first time since 1897.
The Buckeyes can take solace in knowing that Meyer, who officially takes over for interim coach Luke Fickell at Ohio State this week, will make it a priority to improve special teams. Meyer did that in his six seasons in Gainesville, and Rainey and Debose were two of his most prized recruits.
TAMPA, Fla. — Kirk Cousins gave Michigan State a parting gift — its first bowl win in more than a decade.
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 over No. 18 Georgia 33-30 Monday in the Outback Bowl.
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 after conservative play-calling and had a 47-yard attempt blocked on the final play of the game.
Michigan State (11-3) ended a five-game bowl losing streak with its first postseason win since beating Fresno State in the 2001 Silicon Valley Bowl. The Spartans overcame a 16-0 halftime deficit and scored the tying touchdown with 14 seconds left in regulation.
The Spartans handed the Big Ten its lone win in three bowl matchups Monday against SEC opponents — Florida beat Ohio State and South Carolina stopped Nebraska.
Georgia (10-4) finished on a two-game losing streak, including a lopsided loss to top-ranked LSU in the SEC championship game.
Cousins led a 10-play, 85-yard drive without the aid of any timeouts to wipe out a 27-20 deficit on Le’Veon Bell’s second touchdown of the game in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter. Cousins threw a 7-yard TD pass to Keith Nichol midway through the period and finished the day as Michigan State’s career passing and total offense leader.
DALLAS — Case Keenum finished his record-setting career with another performance for the history books.
The sixth-year senior threw for 532 yards and three touchdowns, leading No. 20 Houston to 30-14 victory against No. 24 Penn State in the TicketCity Bowl on Monday.
The Cougars (13-1) finished with a school record for victories and made Tony Levine a winner in his debut as Houston coach. Levine took over when Kevin Sumlin left to take the Texas A&M job after the regular season.
Keenum came into the game as the NCAA’s career leader in yards passing and touchdowns passes, then set a bowl record with 227 yards passing in the first quarter.
“I’m biased, obviously. I’d put him right at the top,” Levine said when asked where Keenum ranks among the best college quarterbacks of all time. “You don’t win 12 games by accident and I don’t think you don’t break the records he broke by accident, either.”
Keenum wasn’t concerned with his place. He leaves Houston as the school career leader with 37 wins, and that’s what he chose to focus on.
“As far as rankings and all that goes, I’m concerned with our team ranking and how we end up,” Keenum said. “Thirteen and one, I hope we end up in the top 15 in the country.”
The loss put to rest Penn State’s tumultuous year with three losses in the last four games. Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno was fired as part of a child sex-abuse scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky that shook college sports.
“I thought the guys came out and they played hard. It’s been a difficult year for them,” Penn State interim coach Tom Bradley said. “It just didn’t go our way.”
The Nittany Lions (9-4) were picked apart by Keenum. Penn State was allowing 162 yards passing per game, but Keenum threw for more than double that by halftime.
The Cougars raced out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter behind Keenum’s record-setting period.
According to TicketCity officials, Louisville’s Browning Nagle had the old mark with 223 yards against Alabama in the first quarter of the 1991 Fiesta Bowl.
Keenum worked the spread offense to perfection, with five different Cougars catching at least five balls. Patrick Edwards, one of the country’s leading receivers, had 228 yards and two scores in the last game of his collegiate career. Justin Johnson had 12 catches for 148 yards.
Keenum is the ninth player in bowl history to pass for at least 500 yards. He thought he could have done better.
“We left a lot out there,” Keenum said. “There were a lot of throws I missed.”
Houston came into the game determined to end the season on a high note having its BCS Bowl hopes dashed on Dec. 3. The undefeated Cougars fell to Southern Miss in the Conference USA championship game, costing UH a shot at the school’s first BCS bid.
“That was the fluke,” Levine said of the lone loss, “and not the 12 wins leading up to it.”
Penn State quarterback Rob Bolden finished 7 of 26 passing for 137 yards, with three interceptions. Houston wanted Bolden, the backup quarterback all season, to air it out as much as possible.
“We know they were going to try to run the ball,” Cougars linebacker Marcus McGraw said. “We just wanted to get them in second and long, third and long, and wanted them to pass the ball knowing they had a second string quarterback.”
Keenum said he’s ready for his next stop — the NFL.
“I rate my chances good,” he said. “I’m very confident in my abilities. I’ve been playing this game a long time and I’m not going to change my game.”
The Associated Press
01/02/12 18:14