Penn State vs. UCF Preview

Story posted September 13, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Ariel Epstein

After reversing last year’s disappointing 0-2 start, by kicking off the 2013 season with two wins, the Penn State Nittany Lions look to extend their winning streak going against the University of Central Florida Knights (2-0).

The Nittany Lions ran away with their home opener last week, defeating Eastern Michigan 45-7.  Penn State started off the game slowly, with a fumble by freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg, which was recovered by Eastern Michigan and run back for a touchdown.  That was the last time Eastern Michigan would celebrate in the end zone. 

UCF submitted a dominating performance in their shutout game on the road against Florida International University.  UCF’s offense has scored 38 points in both games this season and the defense has only given up a total of seven points.  The Knights are ranked fourth overall in points scored against them.

Penn State is losing the turnover battle through games, giving up four in the Syracuse game and two against EMU.  The Nittany Lions have also failed to succeed on third downs, which will need to improve when they begin to face stiffer competition.  With UCF’s dominant defense coming into Beaver Stadium, there is little room for error.

Last week, Hackenberg threw for a program record 311 yards on 23 of 33 passing with one touchdown. The young quarterback is 45-64 for 589 total yards and three touchdowns in his first two starts for the Nittany Lions.

Hackenberg threw to nine different receivers throughout the course of the game, but the main target was standout wide receiver Allen Robinson.  The highlight play against Eastern Michigan was a connection with Robinson on an over the shoulder catch for a 45-yard touchdown to start off the fourth quarter. Robinson had seven receptions for 129 yards, his second straight 100-yard receiving game and fourth of his career.

The Nittany Lion running back triple threat dominated last week accumulating 259 total yards between Belton (108 yds, 2 TD), Akeel Lynch (108 yds, 1 TD) and Zack Zwinak (43 yds, 2 TD).

University of Central Florida quarterback, Blake Bortles, has yet to give up an interception and has thrown for over 200 yards in each of his past two starts this season for a total of 528 yards and four touchdowns.

The Knight’s running back, Storm Johnson, is someone for the Penn State defense to pay close attention.  He ran for 89 yards and three touchdowns last week. In 2013, he has totaled totaled 229 all-purpose yards (188 rushing) and five of the team’s 10 touchdowns. Wide receiver Rannell Hall made four catches for 127 yards last week for UCF all in the first half of the game.

Penn State’s defense dominated last week against Eastern Michigan.  After their offense gave up two turnovers, the defense did not allow the Eagles any wiggle room.  Linebacker, Glenn Carson, led the team with 10 tackles. DaQuan Jones came into a close second with nine, tying his career-high from Week One. 

The impressive UCF defense is going to bring a lot of pressure to the Penn State offensive line. Hackenberg will have to make quick and efficient decisions in the pocket. He will key on junior middle linebacker Terrance Plummer, who was named American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week following Week One.

This will be the first time Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien and UCF head coach George O’Leary will be back on the field together, just on opposite sides.  O’Leary was the head coach at Georgia Tech and Bill O’Brien’s mentor in 1995.   

These teams have met twice in their history and Penn State has taken the series 2-0.  The last time the Nittany Lions and Knights met was in 2004 when former Penn State running back, Tony Hunt, scored three times on the ground in a Nittany Lion 37-13 victory.

If Penn State can hold onto the ball or if UCF puts pressure on the Nittany Lion offense, this game will be one to watch.

Ariel Epstein is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism.  To contact her, email ase5096@psu.edu.