Penn State (0-0) vs. UCF (0-0)|
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, August 30, 8:30 a.m. (ET).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Croke Park Stadium (82,300) -- Dublin, Ireland.
Television: ESPN2. Home Record: PSU 0-0, UCF 0-0. Away Record: PSU 0-0,
UCF 0-0. Neutral Record: PSU 0-0, UCF 0-0. Conference Record: PSU 0-0,
UCF 0-0. Series Record: Penn State leads, 2-1.
GAME NOTES: The Penn State Nittany Lions are set to usher in the James
Franklin era in Dublin, Ireland, as they take on the UCF Knights at Croke Park
Stadium on Saturday morning.
This marks the first game played on international turf in the 128-year history
of Penn State's football program. Franklin, the former Vanderbilt head coach
who replaced Bill O'Brien in January, takes over a Nittany Lions squad that
won seven games and became bowl eligible for the second straight year. Led by
sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg and buoyed by Franklin's first
impact recruiting class, the team has high hopes for another successful
campaign despite a continued postseason ban through 2015 from the fallout of
the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal.
UCF has won nine straight games dating back to last season, the third-longest
active winning streak in the FBS. The Knights went 12-1 and swept their
American Athletic Conference schedule, then knocked off high-powered Baylor in
the Fiesta Bowl, 52-42. After earning their first AP top-10 finish in school
history (No. 10), and giving the AAC a BCS bowl victory in the league's first
year, the Knights must now move on while star quarterback Blake Bortles
(drafted No. 3 overall) and all-conference running back Storm Johnson (7th
round) are both suiting up on Sundays.
PSU owns a 2-1 lead in the head-to-head series, although last season the
Knights came into Beaver Stadium and claimed a 34-31 victory.
Hackenberg's debut season in Happy Valley netted him the Big Ten Freshman of
the Year award. He threw for nearly 3,000 yards (246.2 ypg) with 20 touchdowns
and 10 interceptions and seemed to get a better feel for major college
football as the season progressed, culminating in a four-touchdown effort
against Wisconsin in the final game. Hackenberg has worked on developing
chemistry with a new receiving corps after losing all-conference wideout Allen
Robinson to the NFL. Top rushers Zach Zwinak (989 yds, 12 TDs) and Bill Belton
(803 yds, five TDs) both return.
Defensively, Penn State brings back seven starters led by senior defensive end
C.J. Olaniyan, who posted 11 tackles for loss, including five sacks, and three
forced fumbles in 2013. The unit will be counting on Olaniyan to continue
being a disruptive force and replace some of the production lost from departed
defensive tackle DaQuan Jones (11.5 TFL). At linebacker, senior Mike Hull is a
popular preseason all-conference pick after ranking second on the team with 78
tackles in only 10 games last year. In the defensive backfield, the Nittany
Lions return three starters. Cornerback Jordan Lucas and safety Ryan Keiser
both picked off three passes a year ago, and that duo combined for 27 passes
UCF's offense must find a new identity without Bortles and his 3,581 passing
yards and 25 touchdowns from a year ago. Head coach George O'Leary named
redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo the starting quarterback a little more than a
week into preseason camp, setting the stage for DiNovo to become the first UCF
freshman QB to start a season opener since Daunte Culpepper in 1995. With
Storm Johnson no longer around after piling up 1,139 yards on the ground,
William Stanback moves up the depth chart at running back. Last year as a true
freshman, Stanback ran for 443 yards and six scores on 105 carries as
Johnson's backup. The receiving corps is locked and loaded with leading pass
catchers Rannell Hall (57 rec, 886 yds 5 TD), J.J. Worton (47-721-7) and
Breshad Perriman (39-811-4) all back in the mix. The offensive line returns
The Knights ranked among the top-20 in the country in scoring defense last
season (21.3 ppg), while allowing just 362 yards per game. Anchoring the unit
is first-team all-conference linebacker Terrance Plummer, who finished with
110 tackles to go along with 2.5 sacks and a pair of interceptions. Troy Gray
is another starter who will help out in the middle. The strength of the unit
lies in the secondary, where safety Clayton Geathers and cornerback Jacoby
Glenn roam. Geathers racked up 100 tackles last season while Glenn had 52
stops and 15 pass breakups, and both picked off two passes. Safety Brandon
Alexander (63 tackles, three INTs) led the team in picks last year and
cornerback Jordan Ozerities racked up 59 tackles. Up front, defensive tackle
Demetris Anderson (seven TFL) and end Thomas Niles (eight TFL, four sacks)
It will be interesting to see how, if at all, the time difference and
unfamiliar atmosphere impacts each team. Even without their two biggest
playmakers from a year ago, the Knights are certainly no pushover. But the
Nittany Lions are more experienced where it counts, as Hackenberg looks to
build on his successful first season under center.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Penn State 34, UCF 24
08/29 15:15:54 ET