Gameday breakdown: Penn State vs. UCF

September 14, 2013 

Penn State vs. UCF

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Where: Beaver Stadium

Series: Penn State leads 2-0

Last meeting: Penn State won 37-13 at Beaver Stadium (Sept. 18, 2004)

Coaches: UCF — George O’Leary, 10th season, 62-55 (114-88 overall); Penn State — Bill O’Brien, second season, 10-4 overall.

Television: Big Ten Network (commentators: Matt Devlin, Glen Mason)

Radio: WQWK 1450, WBUS 93.7 (Announcers: Steve Jones, Jack Ham)

The skinny: In a prelude to next season’s meeting in Ireland, UCF and Penn State collide for the third time and the first since Penn State cleaned UCF’s clock in 2004. The Knights are a much improved program now with O’Leary in his 10th season, and will provide Penn State its stiffest test yet this season. The Knights bring a talented quarterback-running back tandem in Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson, who are candidates for the Davey O’Brien and Doak Walker awards — given to the best players at their positions, respectively. UCF also fields a physical group of wide receivers and a defense that has surrendered just seven points through its first two games. The defense returns five starters from last season’s unit that kept the Knights in nearly every game. Save for a 31-16 loss at Ohio State in Week 2 last season, the Knights lost four games by an average of just over four points. Although UCF lost seven of its top 10 tacklers from last season, safety Clayton Geathers is back as is linebacker Terrance Plummer. Both have noses for the football and lead a physical defense that has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season.

Knights player to watch: Johnson is a talented back capable of breaking a big run at any minute. He also can batter and bruise a defense into submission between the tackles and has the speed to bounce a run to the outside. In UCF’s first two games against Akron and Florida International, Johnson accrued the majority of his 188 yards after contact. Arm tackles won’t do the trick here and Johnson must be wrapped up at all costs.

Nittany Lion to watch: Allen Robinson has been a difference-maker in Penn State’s first two games. He’s averaging just over 18 yards per catch and has caught two of Penn State’s three receiving touchdowns. UCF brings a physical, athletic secondary where corners Jacoby Glenn and Jordan Ozerities are athletic enough to run with Robinson while safeties Geathers and Brandon Alexander are hard-hitters who possess high football IQs.

Key matchup: So far, starting defensive ends C.J. Olaniyan and Deion Barnes have been neutralized fairly well as Olaniyan has the lone sack for Nittany Lion defensive ends. Their success might not be measured in sacks this week, as Bortles can move in the pocket and is dangerous once he gets outside if flushed out. It’ll be up to Olaniyan and Barnes to keep the UCF signal-caller contained. Roughing him up early and often is a must, but Bortles doesn’t need to establish a rhythm to gain confidence. He’s a big body at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds and is tough to bring down. Penn State’s defensive ends must keep him in a pressure-filled pocket.

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