Bowl Breakdown: Alamo

Publish date:'s Luke Winn analyzes the matchup.

While the Aggies will play the Alamo Bowl under an interim coach, octogenarian Joe Paterno will be coaching his 500th game for the Nittany Lions. Whether or not JoePa emerges victorious in what will also be his 34th bowl appearance will depend heavily on the running of senior tailback Rodney Kinlaw (1,186 yards, 5.3 per carry, 19 TDs). Mercurial quarterback Anthony Morelli passed for 2,508 yards but struggled in bigger games: in losses to Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State, he combined for four interceptions against just one touchdown. Few signal-callers have had difficulty throwing against A&M's pass defense, though, so Morelli should be able to connect with the dangerous receiving trio of Deon Butler (43 catches, 574 yards), Derrick Williams (50, 490 ) and Jordan Norwood (40, 484).

Penn State has one of the nation's stingiest defenses. It ranked ninth in the nation in yards allowed (306.6 per game) and second in the Big Ten behind Ohio State. Only one team in the country, blitz-obsessed Georgia Tech, had more sacks than the Nittany Lions, who averaged 3.75 per game, led by sophomore end Maurice Evans' 12.5. Senior linebacker Dan Connor added 6.5 of his own -- as well as a conference-leading 136 tackles. Connor, the anchor of Penn State's D, was named a first-team All-America by both the Associated Press and Starting defensive tackle Chris Baker will miss the Alamo Bowl as a result of pending assault charges from a campus fight in October.

Head coach Dennis Franchione announced his "retirement" on Nov. 23, following a regular-season-ending win over rival Texas. A&M hired his replacement, Houston Texans offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, just three days later. Neither Fran nor Sherm, who is finishing the season with the Texans, will be stalking the sideline at the Alamodome, however. Aggies defensive coordinator Gary Darnell took over as interim coach and is charged with generating a respectable ending to an underachieving season. A&M will attempt to do that by meeting Penn State's vaunted run defense head-on with a rushing attack that ranked 12th in the country. The Aggie's three-headed ground game consists of nimble quarterback Stephen McGee (173 carries, 858 yards, five TDs), 268-pound bulldozer Jorvorskie Lane (159, 746, 15) and speed-burner Mike Goodson (139, 646, 2). McGee is also capable of airing it out when necessary: He threw for 362 yards and three scores in the win over Texas.

A&M's secondary has the ability to make Morelli look good. The Aggies ranked 10th in the Big 12 in pass-efficiency defense, letting opposing quarterbacks complete 62.6 percent of their passes. They gave up six 275-yard-plus passing games (to Montana State, Miami, Texas Tech, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Missouri) -- and weren't particularly stout against the run, either, yielding four 200-plus-yard games (to Louisiana-Monroe, Oklahoma State, Kansas and Missouri). Linebacker Mark Dodge is A&M's primary force in the middle; he ranked fifth in the Big 12 with 108 tackles. A&M only had seven interceptions as a team, but four of them were by senior corner Marquis Carpenter.

At a pep rally in San Antonio on Thursday, an A&M yell leader got in hot water for telling the crowd that "someone needs to find [Paterno] a casket." He might be 81, but he can still handle winning a bowl -- especially when his defense is capable of keeping the Aggies' running game in check. Expect Morelli to put a positive coda on what has been a turbulent career by throwing for at least two scores, and the Nittany Lions to prevail.

The pick: Penn State 28, Texas A&M 17