PSU vs. UCF: Who has the edge?

September 14, 2013 

Quarterbacks

Christian Hackenberg is off to a nice start having completed 70 percent of his passes for 589 yards and three touchdowns through two games. The true freshman, who’s also thrown three interceptions and lost a fumble, faces his toughest counterpart yet in Blake Bortles. The UCF junior is a candidate for the Davey O’Brien award, given to the nation’s top quarterback, and hasn’t thrown an interception since Oct. 27 of last season. He’s attempted 217 passes without a pick and can do damage with his feet in the running game. Bortles possesses a strong arm that enables him to throw on the run with precision and confidence. Bortles is not afraid to run and can turn a seemingly busted play into a touchdown with alarming quickness. Advantage: UCF

Running backs

Storm Johnson is a versatile back who can run between the tackles, to the outside and catch passes out of the backfield. He’s physical in pass protection and excels after contact. He’s a load to bring down and squats 630 pounds — the most of any UCF player according to his teammates. But there’s only one of him. Bortles and true freshman William Stanback add rushing options for UCF while Penn State has two tested backs in Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton. Akeel Lynch had a breakout game with 108 yards last week and adds another option for the Penn State running game. Advantage: Penn State

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Rannell Hall, Jeff Godfrey and J.J. Worton have combined to catch 18 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns so far. Sophomore Breshad Perriman has added big-play potential with 125 yards on just four catches for UCF. Knights tight end Justin Tukes has been used sparingly. Hall and Worton employ sneaky styles, can buy time for their quarterback and get lost in defensive traffic. Syracuse and Eastern Michigan had no answer for Penn State’s Allen Robinson, who’s been a game-breaker. Brandon Felder, Eugene Lewis, Matt Zanellato, Alex Kenney and Richy Anderson have all been involved for the Nittany Lions. Tight end Kyle Carter is due for a big game. Advantage: Penn State

Offensive line

Both units have simililar size but UCF has the experience edge with 53 total starts over the past two seasons while Penn State has 43. UCF played two more games last season, however. Knights center Joey Grant will make his third start after playing defense last season. UCF does not yet have a 100-yard rusher this season and paved the way for just five 100-yard individual rushing games last season. Penn State has given up seven sacks already. Both offensive lines are looking to turn the corner with the season still in its early stages. Advantage: Push

Defensive line

The slimmer DaQuan Jones has been an unstoppable force for the Nittany Lions so far. The senior tackle leads the team and is among the national leaders with five tackles for loss. Jones has been complemented by a strong supporting cast that has held opposing running games in check thus far. UCF’s Deion Green is just a sophomore but he has two sacks in his first two games. Overall, the Knights will start three underclassmen up front. Advantage: Penn State

Linebackers

Penn State could get Mike Hull back but his availability is not guaranteed. If he can’t go expect Stephen Obeng-Agyapong to start in his place. Obeng-Agyapong has been an uplifting presence for a position group that needed some reinforcements to emerge. Glenn Carson is playing the best football of his life and will play in his 41st straight game. UCF isn’t deep here, either. While Terrance Plummer is the Knights’ de facto leader and Troy Gray is a playmaker who already has an interception and a fumble recovery this season, UCF has two freshman who haven’t played much in Maurice Russell and Chequan Burkett behind them on the depth chart. Advantage: Penn State

Defensive backs

Penn State has given up more yards but has yet to surrender a passing touchdown, while UCF has given up just one. Both secondaries possess physical players at the safety positions where Malcolm Willis and Adrian Amos anchor for the Nittany Lions. On the other side, Clayton Geathers is a hard-hitter while Brandon Alexander can take on a heavy load for the UCF defense, giving the Knights an equally strong set of safeties. UCF corners Jacoby Glenn and Jordan Ozerities are strong tacklers while Penn State’s set of Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams have been effective so far. Penn State could be without safety Ryan Keiser, who suffered an upper body injury last week and is questionable. Keiser’s absence could pose problems for Penn State, which relies on him heavily in its dime look. Advantage: Push

Special teams

UCF kicker Shawn Moffitt is 17-for-25 in his career and has made his only two kicks this season in the 30- to 39-yard range. Sam Ficken has now hit 14 straight field goals, a school record. Caleb Houston is in his first season as UCF’s punter and is averaging just over 41 yards per punt. Penn State’s Alex Butterworth is averaging 40 yards per punt but his trajectories have been inconsistent. Butterworth may have to replace Keiser if he can’t go as the holder on kicks. Anthony Smith will likely long snap on punts again. UCF hasn’t gotten many chances to show off its return game, with just five total returns so far. Meanwhile, Belton and Lewis are averaging 22 yards per kick return while Jesse Della Valle is averaging 13 yards per punt return. Advantage: Penn State

Coaching/Intangibles

Bill O’Brien began his career on George O’Leary’s staff and now the two meet head-to-head for the first time. The Nittany Lions have preached starting fast but have yet to do so this season. Early penalties and turnovers have bogged Penn State down while UCF has piled on 48 first-half points compared to Penn State’s 23. Five of Penn State’s nine infractions have come in the first half, with two coming on the first offensive play in each of its first two games. UCF is 6-3 in its last nine road games. With attendance waning, can Beaver Stadium provide the raucous home field advantage it once did? Advantage: UCF

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