SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Penn State's future was on full display, but it was a fifth-year redshirt senior running back - who didn't start until the fifth game this season - who stole the Alamo Bowl last night.
Rodney Kinlaw rushed for 143 yards on 21 carries as the Nittany Lions ended their long, tumultuous and sometimes disappointing season on a high note with a 24-17 victory over Texas A&M before 66,166 fans at the Alamodome.
Kinlaw, who didn't get the starting job until Austin Scott was suspended from the team, wasn't the only hero for the Lions. And with maybe 19 starters returning next season, there were plenty of non-seniors to chose from.
Junior Sean Lee showed why he's the next great linebacker at Linebacker U., running down Aggies from sideline to sideline. And backup quarterback Daryll Clark got in on the fray, rushing for 50 yards on six carries as the Lions used a somewhat new package to confound Texas A&M. And finally, Kinlaw's backup, Evan Royster, provided the game-winning score when he bolted 38 yards as Kinlaw sat on the sideline with an injury.
The game marked the 500th game of Joe Paterno's head-coaching career. The 81-year-old icon has now coached in 34 bowl games and has 23 postseason wins, both records for Football Bowl Subdivision coaches.
Texas A&M (7-6) managed to scrape together a long drive in the fourth quarter. But the 16-play drive went for naught when quarterback Stephen McGee slipped and fell on fourth and 1 on the Lions' 2-yard line. The junior rolled to his right on an option, but before he could pitch, his legs went out underneath him and lost 4 yards.
That left 7 minutes, 43 seconds for Penn State (9-4) to burn, and Kinlaw and the Lions were able to drain almost four minutes from the clock. And when the Aggies had to punt on their next possession with 2:09 left, Royster milked the rest and the Lions walked off winners.
The teams exchanged interceptions to open the second half, but the pick by Texas A&M safety Stephen Hodge put the Aggies on their own 2-yard line. They managed to escape another turnover when a drop from massive running back Jorvorski Lane was recovered by tackle Travis Schneider. And with the reprieve, Texas A&M made good on a gutsy call seven plays later.
Facing a fourth and 1 on the Texas A&M 40, McGee dropped back and hit Martellus Bennett in the flat. The tight end rumbled over safety Mark Rubin for 2 yards and had the first down. The drive - 18 plays long - netted a 38-yard field goal by Matt Szymanski and the score was knotted, 17-17.
More important, it gobbled up 8:45 off the clock and kept an already thin Penn State defense on the field for an excruciatingly long stretch.
But the Lions' offense gave its defense a rest and answered with an impressive drive of its own. Even though Kinlaw hobbled off the field early in the drive, Penn State hardly missed a beat. The highlights were two third-down conversions. First, Anthony Morelli completed a 21-yard pass on third and 6 and then Royster - in for Kinlaw - shook a would-be-tackler on third and 1 and raced the rest of the way untouched 38 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
It was a minor miracle the Lions led, 17-14, at the half. But that's just the type of oddball first half it was.
Texas A&M scored the game's first 14 points in a 12-second span. But the Lions rebounded almost immediately and tallied two touchdowns to tie the score, 14-14, in just over a two-minute span. A Kevin Kelly 25-yard field goal ended a 16-play drive before the break and gave Penn State an improbable lead.
It was unlikely because any momentum the Lions gained by opening with an efficient drive was squashed when Kelly was wide right on a 47-yard field-goal attempt.
And then Texas A&M, behind a pro-Aggies crowd, exposed the Lions' defense by marching 70 yards on nine plays with running back Mike Goodson scoring a touchdown on an option run from 1 yard out. A.J. Wallace fumbled on the ensuing kickoff, and Texas A&M had bonus field position.
Goodson took the handoff, darted 15 yards for the score.
But with Kinlaw scooting to the right side behind guard Stefen Wisniewski and tackle Dennis Landolt, Penn State was able to move into Aggies territory. After Kelly's earlier miss, the Lions decided to go for it when they faced a fourth and 3 from the 30-yard line.
With wide receiver Deon Butler in single coverage, Morelli lofted a pass that an outstretched Butler scooped for a 30-yard touchdown.
Texas A&M got the ball back, but Goodson fumbled, and Penn State got it back.
So the Lions lined up Clark in the shotgun, with Morelli split wide. But Clark took the snap and hit the hole for an 11-yard touchdown.