Nits stunned by Central Florida
STATE COLLEGE -- Clinging to a slender hope, Penn State needed its defense to get Central Florida off the field as the final seconds ticked off the Beaver Stadium scoreboard.
UCF quarterback Blake Bortles hit a receiver on a quick throw for 13 yards. First down. Ballgame.
Bortles and the UCF attack were in command all night against a sometimes helpless-looking Penn State defense. The Knights (3-0) totaled 507 yards of offense and held on, 34-31, against the Nittany Lions and a crowd of 92,855.
"We felt good going in that we knew what we had to do to stop them," Penn State defensive coordinator John Butler said. "And to be honest with you we couldn't stop what we needed to stop -- by scheme, coaches-wise and players."
Bortles was the conductor of the UCF offense which gained more yards against Penn State than the team surrendered in the first two weeks combined. The quarterback made a lot of fast decisions and ended the contest with 288 yards and three touchdowns on 20-of-27 passing.
Speedy wideout J.J. Worton was Bortles' favorite target, and his 101 yards and touchdown were only outmatched by running back Storm Johnson, who ran for 117 yards and a score.
"We knew they had good play makers," senior safety Malcolm Willis said. "And, at the end of the day, they made the plays. I’ll reiterate that until I’m blue in the face. They made the plays when the time presented itself and we didn’t."
Willis capitalized on one of Bortles' few mistakes when the defensive back snagged an interception in the second quarter. However, the quarterback had his way otherwise.
Butler said he "emptied the game plan," but UCF was able to beat every type of coverage. Bortles was hitting his targets, and he had a lot of time to do it as the Lions did not sack the quarterback and rarely pressured him.
"Our lack of pass rush was a combination of we didn't full them enough coverage-wise, we didn't cover long enough, and obviously we didn't get to the quarterback," Butler said.
Despite the defensive struggles and an 18-point second half deficit, Penn State's offense was able to keep the team in the game late.
True freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg led three touchdown drives in the final 24 minutes and hit Allen Robinson in the corner of the end zone to shave the lead to three with 2:51 remaining. But the defense never got him the chance to potentially tie or win the game.
Penn State's offense managed 455 yards, 262 of which came from Hackenberg -- who completed 21 of his 28 passes and did not throw an interception. Robinson had 143 yards receiving, and Zach Zwinak had a career-best three touchdowns, but also coughed up a fumble in the fourth quarter.
"Offensively we have to put up as many points as we can," Hackenberg said. "Today we just didn't do it."
Before his fumble, Zwinak (who ran for 128 yards on 21 carries) coasted into the end zone on a one-yard rush to make it a seven-point game early in the final quarter. With the crowd back into it, Penn State looked like it was going to force a three-and-out on the following possession. However, cornerback Jordan Lucas was flagged for pass interference on 3rd-down incompletion. UCF kept the ball and went on to kick a field goal.
"In man coverage, had my eyes on him, made a late break, got my hands on him, turned my head saw the ball, looked at the ref, flag," Lucas said of the play. "I wasn’t expecting it because I thought it was just good coverage."
It may have been a close call, and it can be debated. But one thing is for sure: Penn State's defense never got the stop it needed.