Led by Offense, UCF Tops Penn State
In what was a prelude for next year’s Croke Park Classic in Dublin, Ireland, between the Nittany Lions and the University of Central Florida Knights, the high-powered UCF (3-0) offensive attack defeated Penn State (2-1) 34-31. The Knights relied on the arm of quarterback Blake Bortles and legs of Storm Johnson was too much for the Nittany Lions to handle as they dropped their first game of the season.
Bortles and company came out strong in their first drive of the game with a balanced offense that included a heavy dose of Johnson, Breshad Merriman and Jeff Godfrey. Bortles charged down the field and completed his first four passes of the game, including a big third down conversion on a 28-yard pass to Godfrey. Three plays later, a bubble screen from Bortles to Johnson put the Knights on the board.
Christian Hackenberg would then counter Bortles by marching his offense down the field on the first possession for the Nittany Lions, that included a fourth down grab by fellow freshman Adam Breneman towards the UCF sideline; Breneman’s first ever collegiate catch. An open-field 44-yard catch by Allen Robinson put Penn State in the redzone. The drive was capped off by a four-yard run by Zach Zwinak to secure Penn State’s first score of the night.
In the second quarter, the Knights added another dimension to their first quarter air- attack, spreading the wealth on the ground attack with Johnson. UCF capitalized on Penn State’s turnover on downs, from a Hackenberg incomplete pass. With the opportunity knocking, the Knights took advantage of Nittany Lions mental error in less than a minute with a quick score, as Johnson broke a few tackles at the line of scrimmage and then turned on another gear, going untouched down the right sideline for a 58-yard touchdown run; his second TD of night.
The offense remained consistent for as back-to-back runs by Godfrey and freshman William Stanback, 49 and 21 yards in succession, paved the way for Bortles connecting with J.J. Worton for a short five-yard touchdown to put UCF up 21-7.
With 3:33 left in the second, Sam Ficken connected for a career-high 47-yard field goal to make the score 21-10, and extend his Penn State program record of consecutive field goals made in a row with 15.
A late interception by Malcolm Willis nearly offered enough time for Hackenberg and the offense to add more points, but head coach Bill O’Brien went with a bold move by sending out Sam Ficken for a 57-yard field goal that would fall just short (and would halt his 15 consecutive field goal streak).
In the second half, Bortles and the Knights offense started right where they left off with a mix in the air and on the ground that included a 44-yard catch by Worton and a 25-
yard touchdown grab by Josh Reese near the UCF sideline to make it 28-10, roughly four minutes into the third quarter.
After a huge 46-yard completion down the middle to Allen Robinson, Hackenberg took handed the ball to Zwinak for his second touchdown run of the night.
Next, a Bortles run was ruled down just before the end zone and an illegal formation forced UCF to kicked a field goal, putting them ahead 31-17.
Hackenberg went right back to the reliable Zwinak for his third touchdown of the night; setting a new career-high for rushing touchdowns in a game. The last three touchdown performance by a Nittany Lions running back came last season at Iowa on October 20 by Bill Belton. Zwinak finished his night with 128 yards on the ground on 21 carries.
A UCF field goal roughly halfway through the fourth would finish the scoring for UCF.
With the Nittany Lions relentless attitude, a booted snap to UCF punter Caleb Houston late in the fourth caused him to run backwards and kick the ball out of bounds in desperation. Hackenberg would capitalize on Houston’s blunder and find Robinson for a touchdown.
“With the resilient team that we have I think we’re always in the game”, said Robinson, “I think we showed at the end of the game we gave ourselves a shot”.
Bortles finished going 20-for-27 with 288 yards in the air and Johnson had himself a night with 117 yards on 17 carries, adding three touchdowns.
“Anytime you have a quarterback like that that’s accurate and has a strong arm, that’s big, stands in the pocket and he can run”, said O’Brien. “It’s a very difficult challenge”.
This was also a reuniting of old pals. Bill O’Brien was under the tutelage of UCF head coach George O’Leary; serving as a graduate assistant, running backs coach and offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech.
The Nittany Lions will finish off their three-game home slate to start off the season next Saturday when they host the Kent State Golden Flashes at 3:30 p.m. ComRadio’s coverage of the game will begin with the Tailgate Show live from the All Sports Museum outside of Beaver Stadium.
Ross Insana is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email him firstname.lastname@example.org.