The James Franklin era is off with a bang!
Thanks to the right foot of kicker Sam Ficken, the Nittany Lions leave Dublin with a 26-24 victory, and start off the season 1-0. Ficken nailed a 36-yarder as time expired for the win:
How it happened: Penn State dominated the first half of the game. The team scored a touchdown on the opening drive, and while it only scored three more points before the half, the offense controlled the tempo throughout. The defense was just as dominant — it didn’t let UCF get anything on offense. Jordan Lucas and the secondary only let starting quarterback Pete DiNovo throw for 18 yards in the first half, and the team only gave up 35 yards of total offense.
The second half was different, though. UCF switched quarterbacks, and its offense ran much better under newcomer Justin Holman. The teams traded scores throughout the half, with UCF eventually taking its first lead of the game with 1:13 left. He led the team 55 yards down the field in just eight plays and 1:13 to set up Ficken’s game-winner.
Player of the game: Quarterback Christian Hackenberg carried the team with his arm today, going 32-47 for 454 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions. Hackenberg’s 454 yards breaks the Penn State single game passing record, and further bolsters his reputation as one of the elite passers in all of college football. Yes, the interceptions weren’t pretty. But when it mattered most, Hackenberg delivered. The game-winning drive was a thing of beauty.
Breakout performance: Geno Lewis, who finished with eight grabs for 173 yards and a touchdown, made the highlight of the day. The defender guarding Lewis tipped the ball as they both went up for it, but Lewis still managed to come up with the grab as he fell.
DaeSean Hamilton had himself a breakout performance as well with 11 catches and 165 yards, establishing himself as a formidable weapon opposite Lewis. Both players flashed a knack for the deep ball, as Hackenberg held nothing back in letting the ball fly downfield. Lewis made a beautiful double move that resulted in a wide open 79 yard touchdown in the third.
What needs to improve: The offensive line proved to be shaky, although coming up clutch when needed. Hackenberg had constant pressure in his face, and was often forced to scramble out of the pocket. Cutting down on the early false start penalties will hopefully be a focal point going forward, as such sloppy mistakes can’t happen.
Defensive MVP: Anthony Zettel showed a non-stop motor and relentless pressure, tallying six tackles (three for losses), one sack, and one fumble recovery. The defense as a whole showed no restraint, playing hard nosed, physical football all game. Their first quarter goal line stand set the tone for the rest of the game, and they came up big.
Turning point: Christian Hackenberg’s 79 yard bomb to Geno Lewis in the third quarter. Hackenberg executed a perfect pump fake, which allowed Lewis to blaze by the secondary. That play was the spark the Nittany Lions needed in the third quarter after stalling on previous drives.
Player of the game: Obviously, the true hero of today’s contest was senior kicker Sam Ficken. For a player who has had such an up and down career, his 36-yard game winner felt like the culmination of his resilience throughout it all. What a great way to start his senior year!