DALLAS (AP) - 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 on Monday 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."
Houston receiver Justin Johnson (3) celebrates after catching a touchdown pass behind Penn State safety Drew Astorino (28) during the TicketCity Bowl on Monday in Dallas. Houston won 30-14.
For the players, too.
"We've been to hell and back in a lot of ways, more so for our kids," Paterno said. "They did nothing."
The 24th-ranked Nittany Lions 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 allowing 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 burned the Nittany Lions' veteran secondary with touchdown passes of 40 and 75 yards to build a 24-7 lead by halftime. It was the school'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.
Bradley's enormous task: guide players besieged by the resulting media scrutiny.
Bypassed by more prominent bowls, some Nittany Lions (9-4) debated whether to travel to Dallas at all, then vowed they were over getting jilted and focused on stopping Houston.
Turned out Linbacker U. got trampled over by Keenum and Houston's high-octane offense.
"When you have a lot of fast guys, it makes my job a lot easier," Keenum said.
Start with receiver Patrick Edwards, who burned safety Macolm Willis for a 40-yard touchdown pass from Keenum down the left sideline for a 7-0 lead just 1:52 into the game that often resembled a one-sided track meet. Keenum hit Justin Johnson for an 8-yard TD pass with 2:35 left for a 17-0 lead.
Houston coach Tony Levine, leading the Cougars for the first time since replacing Kevin Sumlin, was pretty impressed.
"I'm biased, obviously. I'd put him right at the top," Levine said of Keenum. "You don't win 12 games by accident and I don't think you don't break the records he broke by accident, either."
Already the NCAA career leader coming into the game for passing yardage and touchdown passes, Keenum added another record to his impressive resume.
His 227 first-quarter passing yards set the record for most passing yards in one quarter in any bowl game, breaking the mark previously held by Louisville's Browning Nagle (223 yards) against Alabama in the first quarter of the 1991 Fiesta Bowl, according to TicketCity Bowl officials.
Penn State All-American defensive tackle Devon Still, already slowed by turf toe, couldn't keep up with Keenum's quick release and Houston's no-huddle attack. The Cougars exploited Penn State's bend-but-don't -break defense across the middle, including Edwards 75-yard touchdown reception up the seam from a scrambling Keenum for a 24-7 lead by halftime.
Keenum finished 45 of 69 passing - two fewer attempts than the number of offensive plays Penn State ran.