Penn State-Central Florida Game Preview

Rob Carr

O'Brien vs. O'Leary under the lights. Let's do this.

Bill O'Brien meets his former mentor George O'Leary in a rare non-conference game under the lights. The students will be in all white and very well-lubricated by the time kickoff arrives.

Penn State (2-0) vs Central Florida (2-0)

Kickoff: 6 p.m., Beaver Stadium, State College, PA

The Line: PSU -6

TV: Big Ten Network Matt Devlin (p-by-p), Glen Mason (analyst)

Weather: Sunny and 65 degrees during the day, cooling to an overnight low of 43 as kickoff approaches. No chance of rain at press time.

COACHES:

Bill O'Brien:

PENN STATE RECORD: 10-4, 2nd year

OVERALL RECORD: 10-4

VS. CENTRAL FLORIDA: First Meeting

George O'Leary:

CENTRAL FLORIDA: 62-55, 10th year

OVERALL RECORD: 114-88, 17th year

VS. PENN STATE: 0-1

...NOW THE FUN PART

CENTRAL FLORIDA OFFENSE VS PENN STATE DEFENSE

Penn State's secondary will need to be on their game as Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles can really sling the ball. There's a strong chance he will be the best pocket passer Penn State faces all season. DaQuan Jones, Deion Barnes and company will need to make sure Bortles does not get too comfortable in the pocket. He can pick apart a defense when given time to find an open receiver. Bortles has a few weapons at his disposal, but no one standout receiver who he relies on. Central Florida's running game has been inauspicious in games against Akron and Florida International, so O'Leary will depend on the passing game to leave State College with a victory.

The Mike Hull watch will continue in week three. It appears Hull will play on Saturday, but there has been no official word from O'Brien besides he is listed as "possible."

CENTRAL FLORIDA DEFENSE VS PENN STATE OFFENSE

It's all going to start up front for the Nittany Lions. Central Florida had trouble stopping the run last season, but knew how to get to the quarterback. O'Leary is smart enough to kick it up a notch against a true freshman quarterback playing his first game under the lights. John Urschel and company will need to keep Hackenberg upright to come out with a win.

Expect Penn State to try to establish the run early and build on the progress from the second half of the Eastern Michigan game. If the Golden Knights still struggle to stop the run (again, hard to judge when the sample size consists of Akron and FIU), Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch will have a very productive evening.

Penn State will need to improve on two things as the schedule gets tougher: convert third downs and get the tight ends more involved. Penn State is 2 of 26 on third down conversions this season, a dreadful seven percent. Bortles will make this team pay if they keep the defense on the field too long. If they start out with two three-and-outs and a turnover like last week, they will find themselves playing catch up very early.

The tight end situation has been disappointing, but not fatal. Injuries to Matt Lehman and Kyle Carter have certainly slowed down progress, but Jesse James and Adam Breneman have not been nearly as involved as expected. Hackenberg will need to become more comfortable throwing to his tight ends to add some much needed wrinkles against tougher competition.

SPECIAL TEAMS

This is what BSD had to say about Penn State's kicking game going into week three last year:

All I'll say about Sam Ficken is that I feel bad for the kid, but it's his job to make those kicks. Let's hope he has better luck and nerves this week. Then again, let's hope it won't come down to his leg at all this week.

If this game comes down to a field goal, Penn State will have it's most dependable kicker in school history lining up for the attempt. What a difference a year can make. Central Florida has an experienced and reliable kicker in Shawn Moffitt, so neither team has much of an advantage. The Golden Knights have a redshirt freshman punter in Caleb Houston, who has performed like a seasoned upperclassman in the first two games. Still, I wouldn't be surprised to see the return unit get after him at some point in the first half to try to get him out of his comfort zone. Central Florida lost All-American kick returner Quincy McDuffie to graduation last year, but receiver Rannell Hall is still a dangerous option.

PREDICTION

PENN STATE- 27 CENTRAL FLORIDA- 21

This game appears to be close on paper, and will likely come down to the wire. Hackenberg will need to stay composed and continue his development. The nerves he displayed in the first quarter against Eastern Michigan could haunt him to give Central Florida the initial lead. Once he settles, he'll make people forget he's a true freshman and the ground game will rev things up to help keep the Golden Knights defense on its toes with a balanced attack. Bortles will have a solid game, but halftime adjustments will help increase pressure and slow down his progress in the second half. Like all close games, it will likely come down to special teams and big plays. The good guys come out on top in the fourth quarter thanks to a crucial Hackenberg-ARob connection and a late Adrian Amos interception to seal the deal.


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