Kentucky star quarterback Tim Couch now may be the most qualified expert on the turf at Raymond James Stadium. He can tell you how it smells. How it tastes. What it feels like between the teeth.
After all, the junior spent much of Friday's Outback Bowl face down in it.
Penn State's ferocious defense, led by defensive end Courtney Brown and linebacker LaVar Arrington, battered, bruised and bullied an injury-weakened offensive line and spent most of the last three quarters apologizing to Couch as they picked him off the ground.
The Nittany Lions shut down Couch and Kentucky for three straight quarters _ holding the Wildcats to their lowest output of the season _ scored 23 unanswered points and ran away with a 26-14 victory before 66,005.
"Early in the game I told myself no matter who was in front of me, no matter the circumstances, I was going to go out there and give it all I got," said Brown, who was the game's MVP with seven tackles, two sacks and countless game-changing pressures. "My goal was to get past the line and get to the quarterback."
With three redshirt freshmen trying to protect Couch, getting to the quarterback seemed easy. Brown, Arrington and Brad Scioli harassed Couch and forced him to throw quickly or scramble.
"It was one of the most times I got hit (in a game)," said Couch, who finished 30-for-48 for 336 yards and two touchdowns, most of it coming in the first half. "They were right up there with the top defenses (he's faced this season). One time, LaVar hit me from the backside and got me pretty clean, pretty good and knocked the breath out of me."
Kentucky coach Hal Mumme added: "We've got a young football team that has learned some lessons (this season) and we learned a few today from Coach (Joe) Paterno and that great Penn State team."
If you erase the first quarter, great is a good description of Penn State's effort. Down 14-3, the Nittany Lions regrouped defensively, found a rhythm offensively and took over by making every big play.
Twice cornerback Anthony King intercepted Couch in the second quarter, and constant pressure on Couch forced a series of crucial false-start penalties. As Penn State seemed to be surging, Kentucky seemed to be surrendering.
"We just had to tighten up the defense as a unit," Brown said of a defensive effort that held Couch to 14 passing yards in the third quarter. "We had to get together and come out and play together and that was the important thing."
Kentucky seemed the more experienced bowl team, shredding that same Penn State defense early. With Couch completing passes at will and running backs Anthony White and Derek Homer effective coming out of the backfield, the Wildcats gained 180 yards in the first quarter. In that quarter, Couch was 10-for-11 for 137 yards despite not completing a pass to his favorite target, Craig Yeast.
Midway through the quarter Couch marched the Wildcats 66 yards on six plays and ended the drive with a brilliant but rare example of his ability to improvise out of the pocket. Flushed outon first and 5 from the Penn State 36, Couch scrambled to his left and while off-balance lobbed a near perfect pass to Lance Mickelsen in the back of the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
Penn State TE Tony Brown had an opportunity to answer but, open 10 yards from the end zone, dropped quarterback Kevin Thompson's pass. The Nittany Lions kicked a 43-yard field goal but soon were in a hole again.
The Wildcats took just 94 seconds and five plays to drive 64 yards for a 14-3 lead on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Couch to White.
That was the end of Couch's joy. Not only did Kentucky's offense disappear but Yeast seemed unable to get open.
Couch said he was surprised by the performance. "They made some good adjustments in the second half. I don't think we have, at least not in the last two years, been held the whole second half without scoring. So they did a great job."
Once the defense took over, Penn State's ball-control offense did the rest. Thompson (14-for-27 for 187 yards) was competent and running backs Eric McCoo (21 carries, 105 yards) and Aaron Harris (13 carries, 54 yards) chewed up turf and time.
Trailing 14-3, Thompson threw a 56-yard touchdown to Joe Nastasi, kicker Travis Forney added three straight field goals (26, 21 and 25) and flanker Chafie Fields scored on a 19-yard run on a reverse with 11:03 remaining.
"We had to hang in there, get some things going and start concentrating," Thompson said. "We had three quarters left. I think (the players) took that to heart and we went out there, pounded the ball and came up with big catches."