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What will be Outback-breaker?

Who will bend? What will break?

So much about today's Outback Bowl between No. 22 Penn State and unranked Kentucky speaks of the classic matchup.

On one hand, there is the conservative, run-oriented offense of Penn State. On the other there is Kentucky's high-octane passing attack marshaled by one of college's best quarterbacks.

On one hand, there is the hard-nosed, sack-the-quarterback defensive scheme that made the Nittany Lions one of the best units in the country. On the other, there is a Kentucky defense that gave up 41.2 points in its four losses.

Then there's the issue of coaches. This will be Joe Paterno's 29th bowl game. It'll be Hal Mumme's first major-college bowl.

Get the picture?

"I think Kentucky's defense doesn't get as much credit as it deserves and I don't think our offense gets the credit it deserves as well," Penn State quarterback Kevin Thompson said. "But that's just how the game works. People are going to (make those comparisons) and say those things and that's fine. But both teams, overall, are great teams and that's why they are both playing in a New Year's Day bowl."

If that is true, it is true for different reasons. The one thing that has worked consistently for Penn State this season is its defense. The Nittany Lions gave up only 294.5 yards a game and are effective stopping the run (97.3 yards). With a crop of solid defensive ends, led by Courtney Brown and Brad Scioli, and arguably the Big Ten's best linebacking trio in Brandon Short, LaVar Arrington and Mac Morrison, Penn State has amassed 47 sacks while holding opponents to 15.4 points.

"The game plan is to try to get to the quarterback," Short said. "Our defensive ends are the keys to our defense. If they can get pressure on the quarterback then we've got a great opportunity to win the football game."

Offensively, Penn State (8-3) didn't play to the lofty standards it set for itself as one of the Big Ten's perennial powers. The Nittany Lions never really found their groove. While Penn State ran the ball effectively (187.9 yards), Thompson and the passing attack weren't prolific contributors. The junior quarterback led a passing attack that averaged only 169 yards. Despite starting every game, Thompson has only six touchdowns.

Although Penn State has averaged 26.5 points, it has been outscored 55-23 in the fourth quarter.

"The key is going to be patience, I've said that all along," Thompson said. "We're going to have to be patient offensively. We're not going to have to go out there and score points right away and get frustrated if we don't.

"We know Kentucky has the capability of going out there and producing a lot of points but we have a great defensive scheme that certainly can pose a big threat for Tim Couch."

Ah, then there's Couch. The junior many believe will play his last collegiate game today brings an arm and the freedom to use it. Purdue quarterback Drew Brees is the closest the Nittany Lions have come to dealing with such a quarterback, but Paterno said there is significant difference between them.

"The difference is that while Brees is very good, very clever, he is not as strong as Tim," Paterno said. "Couch is strong and can break so many tackles."

Couch, who passed for 4,275 yards and 36 touchdowns and was a Heisman finalist, leads an offense that is not secretive about what it wants to do. The Wildcats overwhelm their opponents with short-range passes and receivers who can flat out fly.

"We've been getting a lot of intention on our offense all year and we just want to go out and score a lot of points and try to outscore people," Couch said.

Added UK receiver Craig Yeast: "Any time you get a chance to play a team with such a great coach and a great tradition, you get excited. I think we match up pretty well. They're a lot bigger than us but as far as our skill guys are concerned, we match up pretty well."

The one area of concern for Kentucky's passing game could be the youth on the offensive line. A rash of injuries could force the Wildcats to start three redshirt freshmen on the left side.

"I really have no worries about (the offensive line)," Couch said. "I know they are going to step in and do a great job and so I just have to go about my business and complete passes. They're probably going to get to me one or two times but there are going to be a lot of throws coming at them. We're going to attack them real hard and if they can withstand it, they're a great team."

At a glance

WHO: No. 22 Penn State (8-3) vs. Kentucky (7-4).

WHAT: Outback Bowl.

WHEN/WHERE: 11 a.m., Raymond James Stadium, Tampa.


TICKETS: The game is sold out.

COACHES: Penn State _ Joe Paterno (306-80, 18-9-1 in bowl games). Kentucky _ Hal Mumme (77-37-1, first major-college bowl).

LAST PSU BOWL: 21-6 loss to Florida in the Citrus Bowl Jan. 1, 1998.

LAST UK BOWL: 14-13 loss to Clemson in the Peach Bowl Dec. 31, 1993.