Game Preview: Penn State vs UCF

Story posted August 28, 2014 in CommRadio by Matt Lawrence

Penn State has fielded a football team for the past 128 years. But, never before have the Lions taken on an opponent outside of the borders of the United States. All that changes tomorrow when Penn State and reigning Fiesta Bowl champs, Central Florida, square off in the Croke Park Classic in Dublin, Ireland.

For the second time in three seasons, a new leader will emerge when Penn State enters the stadium. Bill O’Brien left to take the head coaching job with the Houston Texans, opening the door for Pennsylvania native, James Franklin, to take the reigns.

Franklin has since dominated along the recruiting trail, bringing a sense of excitement to Happy Valley that hasn’t been seen since Darryl Clark, Derrick Williams and company led Penn State to a Rose Bowl appearance in 2008.

Sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg returns to an offense that has question marks abound. Because of scholarship reductions, the Nittany Lions will dress only eight scholarship offensively linemen. Redshirt sophomores Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia have moved over from the defensive line to supply extra depth, but surely, finding an offensive line combination that gels and stays healthy will be vital for Franklin’s opening season.

Behind the arm of Blake Bortles and the power running game of Storm Johnson, the Knights walked out of Beaver Stadium with a 34-31 last season en route to a 13-1 season. But with those two now battling for spots with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Central Florida will have some holes to fill themselves.

Redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo is slated as the starting quarterback for George O’Leary’s Knights. DiNovo has yet to see live action and will be facing a Penn State secondary that many believe could blossom into a real strength compared to their performance last season.

Look for new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop to do a better job of putting the Penn State defense in positions to make plays. They have installed a 4-2-5 scheme allowing for senior safety Adrian Amos to serve as rover in pass and run coverage. It’s a simpler system than the one used by former coordinator John Butler and it stresses the importance of speed and athleticism.

When asked earlier this week about the challenges that surround playing in a, “Once in a lifetime” sort of game, Franklin was quick to acknowledge why he and his players are in Ireland. 

“This is not going to be a once in a lifetime experience,” said Franklin. “For us, this is a business trip to go play the football game no different than if we were playing at State College High School.”

Senior linebacker and captain Mike Hull also understands the level of excitement surrounding the trip. 

“I think a lot of people are excited just because of where the game is being played,” said Hull. “And, first game of the season every year, you’re really excited, a lot of emotions, especially with the new staff and not knowing what to expect all the time.”

The Croke Park Classic kicks off from Dublin, Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m. ComRadio’s own Mike Esse and Joe Garofalo will have the call with complete coverage beginning at 7:30 am with the ComRadio Football Pregame Show hosted by Maddie Brightman.

Matt Lawrence is as senior majoring in broadcast journalism and economics. To contact him, email