Penn State 26


UCF 24


Coverage: ESPN2

8:30 AM ET, August 30, 2014

Croke Park Stadium, Dublin

1 2 3 4 T
PSU 7 3 10 626
UCF 0 3 7 1424

Top Performers

Passing: C. Hackenberg (PSU) - 454 YDS, 1 TD, 2 INT

Rushing: Z. Zwinak (PSU) - 12 CAR, 32 YDS, 1 TD

Receiving: G. Lewis (PSU) - 8 REC, 173 YDS, 1 TD

Penn State stuns UCF, wins opener on Sam Ficken's game-winning FG

Associated Press
Hackenberg's 79-yd TD Pass
Christian Hackenberg pass complete to Geno Lewis for 79 yds for a TD

DUBLIN -- Penn State won a thrilling season opener with a 36-yard field goal as time expired to defeat the University of Central Florida 26-24 in front of a raucous 55,000-strong crowd in Ireland.

Behind second-half replacement quarterback Justin Holman, the Knights appeared to have scored their own unlikely come-from-behind victory when Holman scored on a 6-yard touchdown run to put UCF up 24-23 with 1:13 left.

But Christian Hackenberg -- capping a 32-for-47, 454-yard performance -- coolly directed a seven-play drive to set up Sam Ficken's fourth successful field goal as the Penn State bench swarmed the field. Hackenberg ran 8 yards for a first down on a 4th-down play in Penn State's own half of the field during the final drive.

Saturday's win was the first for new Penn State coach James Franklin, who declared his pride in a team that wasn't rattled by UCF's go-ahead TD.

"There was only a minute or so left in the game, and I looked across the sideline and there wasn't doubt in anybody's eye. Everybody believed. They believed in Hack. They believed in Ficken," Franklin said.

On the field, Penn State players received the Dan Rooney Trophy, a football made of ancient Irish bog wood that was specially commissioned for the game. Cannons blasted blue-and-white streamers and confetti into the air at Dublin's Croke Park, a stadium that normally hosts Gaelic football matches, not American football games.

Hackenberg spoiled a stunning performance by Holman, who came on for the second drive of the second half after coach George O'Leary benched the ineffective Pete DiNovo. The redshirt freshman had been 3 of 8 for just 18 yards and gave up a drive-killing sack on his final play.

O'Leary praised both Holman and Hackenberg, describing the Penn State QB as a player that "everybody in the country would like to have." He expressed bewilderment at DiNovo's poor play.

"I said at halftime that he's not moving the chains, I didn't like the way he was handling things out there. He just seemed to be all over the place," O'Leary said of DiNovo.

He said the UCF receivers were consistently open in both halves, but DiNovo too often misfired or hesitated.

"Justin, give him credit," he said of the replacement quarterback. "He went out there and made the throws. He was the spark plug in the second half offensively."

Penn State ended the first half up 10-3, but should have been ahead by more as UCF struggled to move the ball at all. Both teams looked jet-lagged in what was the first overseas game in either school's history.

The Nittany Lions' opening drive was extended by a roughing-the-kicker penalty, then Hackenberg dropped a 44-yard pass between two defenders to receiver DaeSean Hamilton. Zach Zwinak finally punched the ball in from the 1-yard line on his third attempt to put Penn State up 7-0.

A 68-yard kickoff return by Jordan Akins gave UCF the ball on Penn State's 23, but O'Leary gambled and lost with a 4th down decision to go for it on PSU's 1-yard line. DiNovo's rollout straight into a pass rush ended with a throwaway.

UCF cornerback Jacoby Glenn made a diving interception on Hackenberg's next possession, but the Knights could manage only a 36-yard Shawn Moffitt field goal to make the score 10-3.

The game tempo accelerated as soon as Holman entered the game. He ran for two touchdowns, the first a one-yard plunge to pull UCF within 13-10 with 2:39 left in the third quarter. And he threw for a third, a 10-yard bullet to Josh Reese with 11:31 left that narrowed Penn State's lead to 20-17.

Between those two UCF scores, Hackenberg pulled off the longest play of the game. On 3rd and 17 deep in his own half, he lobbed a bomb to Geno Lewis, who had gotten behind three defenders and ran untouched for a 79-yard TD.

The start of the fourth quarter featured a rat-a-tat three turnovers in 52 seconds.

Hackenberg, rolling right and under pressure from defensive tackle Demetris Anderson, saw his pass picked off on the UCF 39-yard line by cornerback Jordan Ozerities.

On the very next play Holman suffered his only miscue, failing to keep hold of the ball during a play-action move. Defensive tackle Anthony Zettel recovered.

Two plays later, Chris Godwin took a bubble-screen pass and got hit hard by two defenders, particularly Glenn, whose low-shoulder tackle popped the ball loose again. Strong safety Clayton Geathers recovered.

UCF's defense forced Penn State to settle for a third field goal with 3:30 left to make it 23-17. Then Holman, who finished 9 of 14 for 204 yards, marched his team down the field -- straight into a 4th down-and-10 crisis on the Penn State 37.

As the heavily pro-Penn State crowd roared, Holman fired a long ball down the left sideline that looked overthrown. But Reese leaped backward and caught the ball with both hands as he fell on his back at the 6. Holman scored on the ground the next play, leaving too much time on the clock for Hackenberg.

"He's what a college quarterback should look like," O'Leary said of Hackenberg. "He delivered the ball on time and with great efficiency. We should've had our hands on him more, but he was the difference in the game."


Team Stat Comparison

1st Downs2411
Total Yards511246
3rd Down Conversions10-185-13
4th Down Conversions1-21-2

Passing Leaders

Christian Hackenberg32/474549.712
Justin Holman9/1420414.610
Pete DiNovo3/8182.300

Rushing Leaders

Zach Zwinak12322.7112
Bill Belton10161.609
Dontravious Wilson21341.6016

Receiving Leaders

Geno Lewis817321.6179
DaeSean Hamilton1116515.0044
J.J. Worton58316.6046
Breshad Perriman38127.0050

Scoring Summary

TD8:20Zach Zwinak 1 Yd Run (Sam Ficken Kick)Watch Highlight 70
FG12:26Shawn Moffitt 36 Yd Field Goal Watch Highlight 73
FG6:20Sam Ficken 22 Yd Field Goal Watch Highlight 103
FG6:56Sam Ficken 33 Yd Field Goal Watch Highlight 133
TD2:39Justin Holman 1 Yd Run (Shawn Moffitt Kick)Watch Highlight 1310
TD0:55Geno Lewis 79 Yd pass from Christian Hackenberg (Sam Ficken Kick)Watch Highlight 2010
TD11:31Josh Reese 10 Yd pass from Justin Holman (Shawn Moffitt Kick)Watch Highlight 2017
FG3:30Sam Ficken 24 Yd Field Goal Watch Highlight 2317
TD1:13Justin Holman 6 Yd Run (Shawn Moffitt Kick)Watch Highlight 2324
FG0:00Sam Ficken 36 Yd Field Goal Watch Highlight 2624

Research Notes

Christian Hackenberg completed a career-high seven passes thrown 15 yards or longer, including a 79-yard touchdown to Geno Lewis in the third quarter. Only one Big Ten quarterback has had more such completions in a game in the last four seasons (Nathan Scheelhaase on Oct. 1, 2011, vs Northwestern).
Christian Hackenberg set a school record for passing yards, becoming the first 400-yard passer in Penn State history.
Both Geno Lewis (173) and DaeSean Hamilton (165) had 100-yd receiving games for Penn State today... 1st time Nits had multiple 100-yd receivers in same game since 2008 vs Michigan State (Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood).
UCF had 35 yards of total offense in the first half, its fewest in a half since having 24 in the second half against Southern Miss on Sept. 12, 2009, and UCF's fewest in the first half in the last 10 seasons.
As a way to show how much the sport of college football has changed in the last decade: In 2004, there were nine 300-yd passers in the first week of the sport. There are 12 so far this week including Christian Hackenberg and it's not even noon ET on the first Saturday of the season yet.

ESPN Stats & Information