Christian Hackenberg didn’t turn the ball over once, showing exceptional poise for a freshman on the comeback trail. When Penn State took over on UCF’s 25-yard line after a botched punt attempt, Hackenberg completed two key passes to Jesse James and Allen Robinson for a touchdown. None of the butterflies from his first quarter against Eastern Michigan stuck around for this game. The mistakes were few, and didn’t have an extreme negative impact on the game’s outcome. When he’s under pressure, there are times when he needs to scramble and throw the ball away, instead of waiting for something to happen when nothing will.
Running backs: A
Zach Zwinak — despite his equal position on the depth chart with Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch — scored a career-high three touchdowns on 128 ground yards. His performance went more under the radar than on a day Penn State’s defense might have allowed less points. But Zwinak identified holes as they opened, and ran downhill for an average of 6.1 yards per carry. Against UCF, Zwinak also showed that he can sidestep a player if he has the room to do so. Belton and Lynch were supporting players Saturday.
Regardless of who covers him or how many, Allen Robinson seems like he’s going to be the guy who’ll set the pace for Penn State’s receivers this season. It’s widely known among defenses that he is the Lions’ No. 1 guy, yet he still caught nine for 143 yards and a touchdown Saturday. If this type of output keeps up, Penn State may start to worry about losing Robinson to the NFL Draft as a junior. Tight end Adam Breneman joined the stat sheet Saturday, wrangling four passes for 22 yards, including an early fourth down catch in the first quarter. The freshman Richy Anderson grabbed two for 21 yards. Brandon Felder, who remains No. 1 on the depth chart alongside Robinson, was non-factor with only one reception for four yards.
Offensive line: B
It was better than past weeks. Hackenberg was only hurried a few times. There were several late-down instances when he needed those extra seconds to move the chains. He was sacked once — a play Hackenberg nearly made worse by intentionally grounding the ball on the retreat.
Defensive line: D
It’s the first time in more than two years that Penn State did not record a sack. If that doesn’t merit a low grade for the position whose job is to sack the opposing quarterback, I don’t know what does. Deion Barnes is having an abysmal start to the season. He’s barely wreaked any havoc over the last three games. The man who’s been picking him up, DaQuan Jones, was shut down Saturday as he recorded five tackles, none for a loss. Penn State’s inability to pressure Bortles was the genesis of the rest of the defense’s problems.
It’s tough to grade down for Mike Hull, who was clearly still compromised by an injury. Stephen Obeng-Agyapong began to show that his weight may not hold up at linebacker against teams that aren’t Syracuse or Eastern Michigan. Glenn Carson and Nyeem Wartman made some stops, but didn’t cause Bortles or UCF’s running backs problems throughout the game. Penn State’s linebackers have yet to reach the echelon of play that guys like Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti did last season. Three games into the 2013 campaign, it’s safe to say they should have shaken off the rust by now.
Defensive backs: D-minus
Malcolm Willis made an interception that resulted in zero points. Trevor Williams broke up a couple of passes. Aside from that really, UCF lay waste to Penn State’s secondary.