Instant Analysis: Penn State 26, UCF 24

Instant Analysis: Penn State 26, UCF 24. It was ragged, but the Nittany Lions came away with the big win.

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It wasn’t always a thing of beauty, and it took 454 passing yards from Christian Hackenberg to get the job done, but Penn State gave the Big Ten a great win over one of the stars of the American Athletic conference.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, there’s no Blake Bortles and this isn’t the same UCF team that beat Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl, but it’s still a good enough team to be considered the favorite in the AAC and a mid-range, rebuilding Big Ten team was able to come away with the win. Now that we’re in a playoff era where appearances and non-conference games like this truly matter, it’s important – combining with the UConn disaster against BYU and the Houston embarrassment against UTSA, it’s going to make life that much tougher for a Cincinnati or an East Carolina if it comes out hot.

But for Penn State, this was exactly how you want to start the season. The team overcame adversity in a strange environment, got the clutch kick, got the big plays down the stretch from the offense, and in an always-ragged Week One, won. There are major issues with time management, penalties, and no, you don’t run a franchise player like Hackenberg and let him get popped, but James Franklin got the win.

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UCF lost a game, but found a quarterback.

In a game staged in Ireland, the ending fittingly came on a kick. Unfortunately for the Knights, that walk-off field goal came off the foot of Penn State’s Sam Ficken. It’ll be an especially long flight from Dublin to Orlando for UCF, which was so close to answering its Fiesta Bowl shocker over Baylor with an upset of a Big Ten team. But while the Knights may have lost the battle, they won the war this morning.

UCF spent an entire offseason auditioning candidates to replace Blake Bortles. Pete DiNovo won the right to start the Croke Park Classic, which means absolutely nothing right now. Justin Holman will lead the offense the rest of the season. Some players excel when it matters most, during game time. Holman appears to be that kind of a kid. He came off the bench and did everything he could to carry the Knight offense out of the dregs of an awful first half. He’s poised, the ball whistles out of his hand and he’ll make plays with his feet when necessary.

UCF’s quest of winning back-to-back American titles had one big stumbling block in the offseason—developing a successor to Bortles. That happened today, thanks to an emerging sophomore who began the day on the sidelines.

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