UNIVERSITY PARK — Speed kills.
It was a commercial saying many years ago, but its application still applies on the gridiron.
Central Florida entered Saturday’s contest knowing that Penn State had the edge in brawn, but the Knights were counting on quickness and experience behind center.
Those things negated the Nittany Lions’ edge in stature and Central Florida pulled off what Coach George O’Leary called the biggest win in program history with a 34-31 victory at Beaver Stadium.
“Coming in, it’s Big Ten football,” said Knights quarterback Blake Bortles, who completed 20 of 27 passes for 288 yards and three scores against an overmatched Penn State defense. “We knew they would be big. We knew we would be faster. We knew we would be able to get outside and make some plays happen.”
Bortles made thing happen from the start. On the game’s first series, he guided the Knights on a 13-play, 89-yard drive that would culminate in with his four-yard touchdown pass to Storm Johnson. Bortles went 6-for-7 on the march, which lasted nearly seven minutes.
“The first drive really put us all at ease,” said Central Florida wideout J.J. Worton, who had seven catches for 101 yards and a score in the contest. “We were able to do what we wanted to do.”
The drive answered what UCF wondered entering the contest — that it could play with the Nittany Lions.
The Knights, now in the American Athletic Conference (what’s left of the old Big East), admit that playing with and beating the big boys is special.
“We feel like we’re a better team than anyone we’re matched up with,” Worton said. “We know who we have and who we match up with. The fact that we were able to come out here and get the win really gives us a lot of confidence.”
“We definitely play with a chips on our shoulders. I know I do,” added Bortles, who is now showing up on NFL draft projections. “We didn’t have the offers from Penn State and the big schools. When we come here to play, we want to make sure they know we can play with them. We took advantage of our opportunity tonight.”
Even with a patched-up offensive line missing two starters, Bortles showed why he has drawn NFL interest. He made short, long and deep throws and was an excellent runner when needed.
“He’s tremendous,” Worton said of his good friend. “The fact that he’s able to keep himself composed in the pocket and be able to make the plays … he’s a tremendous player and he’s going to take us all of the way.”
Bortles credited the game plan for the Knights success.
UCF lined up to punt just twice in the contest against a defense that had allowed just one touchdown drive all season. The Knights had three touchdown drives of more than 80 yards Saturday.
“We had a good plan and we executed it,” Bortles said. “We blocked it good up front. The receivers ran good routes. I just had to distribute the ball to the right places.”
O’Leary lauded the way Bortles handled the noise from the 92,000-plus and made the big plays in crucial situations. The Knights were 7 of 12 on third down conversions and had 10 plays of more than 20 yards.
“There were a couple of plays that Bortles made downfield on some key third downs that were critical to keeping the chains moving,” O’Leary said. “I thought that was the difference in the game.”
The Knights improved to 3-0 and might get a few more votes in the Top 25.
O’Leary, who has beaten SEC power Georgia, said beating the Nittany Lions had more significance.
“I think you can build on a win like this going into the season.”