Penn State's best defense in Monday's Ticket City Bowl may just be its offense as keeping Keenum off the field will be key. So what is Houston's defense like?
“They have a lot of weapons in their arsenal,” left tackle Quinn Barham said. “We've been getting ready for everything from frequent blitzes to rare blitzes.”
The Cougars run a 3-4 defense, but mix it up with a 4-3 depending on the read.
One thing they particularly excel at is forcing turnovers. Houston has 10 fumble recoveries and 18 interceptions this season.
“We can't turn the ball over,” running back Silas Redd said. “No interceptions, no fumbles. If we can do that, we have a great chance of winning.”
Houston's defense gives up 171.7 yards on the ground per game, so Penn State needs Redd, who's been averaging 99 yards per game, to have a big day.
“A stat like that makes you smile,” Redd said of UH's rush defense. “We have to run the ball and chew the clock up to keep their offense off the field.”
Redd, who sprained his clavicle in the Nebraska game and missed some time because of the injury, said he is at 100 percent now.
“If they need me to take 25-30 carries, I'll be OK,” he said.
Defenses in the Big Ten compared to those in Conference USA are pretty different. Asked if Houston's unit reminds him of any he's seen this season, Redd had a hard time answering.
“I mean, they don't really remind me of any,” he said. “Just playing in the Big Ten, those guys are really physical and really big. [Houston] isn't a small defense, but they're able to run well. If I could compare them to anybody, I'd say Alabama because their secondary is really fast, the linebackers are fast and they have a really athletic defensive line.”
Redd added: “Physically, we can out-man them, but we're not going to bank on that. We have to come out 100 percent because we know they're ready to play.”
The last thing Penn State wants to do is get into a shootout with this Houston team. The Cougars' offense scored at least 56 points six times this season and put up 73 points in two of those games.
The most points Penn State has put up this season is 41 and that was in its first game against Indiana State.
“I think we're going to have to score 30 points,” Redd said. “We're not trying to get into a shootout with these guys. Thirty points and we have a chance of winning the game. I don't think it'll be that difficult.”
A player in particular the Lions will have to be wary of is Houston linebacker Sammy Brown, who leads the nation with 28 tackles for loss and averages 2.1 per game. He's also tied for third-most sacks (12.5) in the country.
“He's a threat for their defense,” Barham said. “We're working hard to play him the correct way and counter his attack. Their inside defense is gonna be great and we know what to expect from them from watching so much film.”
Rob Bolden will likely start at quarterback for the Lions as Matt McGloin has been extremely limited in practice due to the lingering effects of a concussion he sustained during a scuffle with a teammate back in Happy Valley.
Bolden's teammates have confidence that he'll be able to manage the offense and keep Keenum off the field.
“He's really grown these past few weeks,” Barham said. “Once he knew he had the job, he stepped it up. He's a leader, which is something we really commend him on. We have faith in him.”