Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch hasn't announced whether he'll skip his senior season to play in the NFL. But if staying in school means facing more defenses like Penn State, Couch might want to think harder about leaving.
Kentucky, which averages 534 yards and 38 points, was held to 441 yards in a 26-14 Outback Bowl loss. It was the Wildcats' lowest scoring total this season, and they didn't score in the last three quarters.
"Their defense is right up there with the top ones we've faced," Kentucky coach Hal Mumme said. "(Defensive coordinator Jerry) Sandusky did a good job of putting people in the right place. It seemed like they were always there to make plays."
Trailing 14-3, with Couch 10-for-11 for 137 yards, the Nittany Lions started clamping down. Cornerback Anthony King made the first big play, picking off a Couch pass at the Nittany Lions' 15. That killed a drive that started with a 67-yard kickoff return by Craig Yeast.
Later in the second quarter, King picked off another Couch pass.
And when Couch wasn't throwing, he was running from pressure.
Penn State had five sacks, two by Brad Scioli and Courtney Brown. It also had numerous pressures that left Couch on the turf after passes.
In the final minutes, with Kentucky trailing 26-14, Penn State held with two sacks and a batted pass on fourth and goal at the 20.
"They did a lot of different things defensively," Couch said. "They'd bring their safeties up, then at the snap they'd drop them back. They'd roll their safeties around and give all kinds of different looks. They did a great job of disguising."
Couch threw for 336 yards, but it was his second-lowest total of the season.
It didn't help that Kentucky's offensive line was banged up. Guard Jeremy Streck left in the first quarter with an injured right knee. And Nolan DeVaughn was the second-string center forced into action because starter Jason Watts was kicked off the team while facing charges of involuntary manslaughter in a November car accident that killed two people.
The offensive line had eight false starts, but players weren't pointing fingers after the game.
"We had some guys out on the offensive line, and that caused some miscommunications," Kentucky halfback Anthony White said. "But the routes were there. We had receivers open. We just didn't make the plays."
Yeast said: "I think our line did an excellent job. We just didn't execute well. The plays were there, but Penn State is good at making adjustments."
Yeast had 85 catches for 1,311 yards in the regular season, but had only two catches for 31 yards against Penn State.
"We knew where (Yeast) was the whole game," Penn State cornerback David Macklin said. "Sometimes we'd drop two guys on him. We just didn't want him making any big plays."
Kentucky's two big offensive plays came from Lance Mickelsen and White. Mickelsen caught a 37-yard touchdown and White caught a 16-yard touchdown, all in the first quarter. Kentucky didn't score again.
"We just weren't in synch," Mickelsen said. "We had so many false starts, and that just puts you in a hole. We're second and 20, and most defenses can stop you then. They made adjustments, but we made a lot of mistakes. This was not our best offensive game by any means."