UCF... A trap game?
Penn State’s defense faces its toughest challenge yet in Central Florida’s offense led by quarterback Blake Bortles. The pro-style signal caller has above-average accuracy, completing 70 percent of his passes through the first two games of the season. He hasn’t thrown a pick since early last year. This game could fall on Penn State’s secondary to step up and make some big plays. On offense, Penn State looks back to Hack. The freshman Christian Hackenberg can less afford the first quarter jitters he displayed against Eastern Michigan. This is Penn State’s precursor to Big Ten play. Hackenberg can’t always be hauling his offense out of holes.
Penn States’s running game... Take three.
A bad game one, a brilliant game two. How does that fare for game three? Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch all enter this week equal on the depth chart, and how they play could relate directly to how Hackenberg plays. A quarterback is more confident when he knows he’s got a reliable running game behind him. Will O’Brien utilize all three the same, or will he prefer one running back as the game goes on? Despite the ORs on the depth chart, Zwinak could still get the bulk of the carries. His bruising style especially comes in handy when Penn State is running its fast-paced, NASCAR offense. O’Brien liked the explosion he saw from Belton last week, but the junior enters today’s game with a minor injury. With that said, Lynch may see some more carries — he led the team with 13 last weekend.
Mike Hull returns... What’s his impact?
Hull was a gamechanger last year coming off the bench, so the Nittany Lions need him badly to start at linebacker. The redshirt junior did not start last weekend after suffering an injury against Syracuse, but O’Brien said Hull will play today. The only Penn State linebacker that’s really erupted so far is Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, who’s not even a true linebacker. If healthy, Hull has all the makings to ruin the UCF quarterback’s day. Last year, Hull showed his propensity to block kicks, force fumbles, and even make a key interception. He also had four sacks, and was sixth on the team in tackles, ahead of many starters. Hull may not be as vocal as former Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti, but Hull’s hair is ablaze with the same fire.
Five keys to a Penn State victory
- The Lions set the tone early and score first, whether by field goal, touchdown or safety.
- Penn State’s defensive backs cut off Bortles’ options.
- Deion Barnes gets off the edge. At some point, the defensive end will have to pick up the pass rush, embarrass an offensive tackle and crunch the opposing quarterback into the ground a couple of times.
- Squeeze the football. Penn State quarterbacks are currently mired in a two-game streak of fumbling while not under extreme duress.
- Allen Robinson. Find a way to get him open, thrown him the ball, watch what happens next.
Hackenberg +/- 1.5 interceptions:
UNDER. Hackenberg may throw one, but his nerves aren’t taking the same barrage as they did during the freshman’s first game at Beaver Stadium.
Deion Barnes +/- 1.5 sacks:
OVER. After what Barnes did in 2012, it’s amazing he didn’t have a sack against Syracuse or Eastern Michigan. The drought can’t go on; Barnes is too good.
Penn State secondary +/- 0.5 picks:
UNDER. Bortles is a smart quarterback, and won’t force balls into good coverage. Any success from Penn State’s secondary today won’t show up on the stat sheet.
Penn State running backs +/- 2.5 touchdowns
UNDER. Hackenberg will have to show some red zone passing prowess in this game. It often goes unnoticed, but look at the running backs’ role on pass protection.
Mike Hull +/- 7.5 tackles
UNDER. He’s still recovering, but Hull may have a turnover in him.
Predicted Score: Penn State 31 UCF 28