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Penn State Looks To Stay Undefeated Against Tough Central Florida Team

The Nittany Lions have played the Central Florida Knights twice in the past. The first game was back in 2002 when Penn State barely edged UCF for a 27-24 win. Their next matchup came in 2004 when Penn State posted 524 yards of offense while holding UCF to just 181 yards in route to a 37-13 victory. When kickoff comes tomorrow evening at Beaver Stadium, expect a close matchup similar to the game from ’02.

These are two teams with tough, physical play across the board, both on defense and on offense. Fans that like some hard-hitting football will leave Beaver Stadium satisfied, not only because it will be a hard-fought game, but because Penn State should win if the first two games of the season were any indication of how the team will play tomorrow.

It will be a primarily defense-based game as both teams have extremely strong defensive units. UCF won its season opener against Akron by a whopping 38-7. They were even better last Friday against FIU when they posted a 38-0 shutout to enter its matchup against the Nittany Lions undefeated. I don’t care what teams you’re playing. Allowing seven points through eight quarters of football is impressive no matter what.

Having said that, there will be big plays to be had for both teams. Penn State’s passing attack has looked explosive at times in the first two games, and the run game caught up last weekend against Eastern Michigan. Blake Bortles, the Knight’s starting quarterback and an NFL prospect, has been pretty great as well. In UCF’s opener he accounted for three touchdowns. Their run game isn’t too shabby either. Storm Johnson, their starting running back and owner of one of the greatest football names ever, scored three of his own last weekend against FIU.

Both defenses will bend at times, but the one that breaks will lose the game. Let’s take look at some Central Florida players to keep your eye on.

Blake Bortles #5 — The Knights’ redshirt junior quarterback is one of the best in the nation. He’s on the Davey O’Brien Award Watch List, an honor that goes to the nation’s best quarterback. He’s also on the Maxwell Award Watch List, an honor that goes to the best player in the nation. He hasn’t thrown an interception in 217 attempts, a school record, and threw for a career-high 314 yards in UCF’s season opener. Bortles is a very good, very accurate, very decisive quarterback that will hurt your defense if you give him the chance.

Storm Johnson #8 — Johnson has five touchdowns already this season and is a big boy, weighing in at 215 pounds and standing at 6-0. He had just shy of 100 yards in each of UCF’s first two games and will be looking to do more damage tomorrow. The Penn State front seven will have to work hard to contain Johnson and deal with a physical Knights’ offensive line.

Terrance Plummer #41 — UCF’s best linebacker has played strong so far this season, a continuation of his strong play in 2012. Plummer had 108 tackles last season, the most of any Knights linebacker. He led the team in tackles in their first two games, totaling 10 (with three for a loss) in the Knights’ opener and adding seven more last week. He’ll be a big part of UCF’s attempt to contain Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton, and Akeel Lynch tomorrow.

Some things to watch for from the Nittany Lions:

Zwinak, Belton, and Lynch — The Nittany Lions’ running back trio was amazing last Saturday against Eastern Michigan, rushing for 259 yards and five touchdowns. On the other hand, the unit wasn’t so great in the season opener against Syracuse. EMU wasn’t exactly the toughest opponent in the world, so it will be interesting to see how the backs perform against their toughest opponent thus far.

Third down conversions — Penn State’s offense has struggled to convert third downs so far this season, but Bill O’Brien had an interesting diagnosis for the issue this week. O’Brien said that the third down issues stem from the offense putting itself in bad situations on first and second downs, whether by means of stupid penalties — like false starts — or just plain old executional failures. The Nittany Lions have two more weeks to sort out their third down struggles before the conference schedule rolls around, and that needs to start tomorrow.

Mike Hull — After getting injured against Syracuse and sitting out against Eastern Michigan, Mike Hull is back and ready to rejoin the Nittany Lions’ strong linebacker unit. He had hurt his knee so it will be interesting to see how agile and speedy Hull looks early in the game, but O’Brien said this week that he’s ready to go.

The pass defense — The Nittany Lions defense has been very solid so far this season, but the front seven has certainly outplayed the secondary thus far. Blake Bortles and the UCF pass attack will be their biggest challenge yet, so tomorrow will be a good litmus test to determine how good the secondary really is.

One thing’s for sure, it’s going to be a hell of a lot of fun watching these two teams try and wear each other down under the lights of Beaver Stadium.

By the Numbers: The UCF Knights have scored a touchdown on 10 of 21 offensive possessions so far this season. That’s good for a very impressive 48 percent.

Blast from the Past: When the teams last faced off in 2004, Zack Mills threw for 229 yards and one touchdown while Tony Hunt ran for 125 yards and three scores. Dan Connor, Paul Posluszny, and Matthew Rice had seven tackles apiece with Connor adding an interception. The Nittany Lions won 37-13.

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About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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