Blitz the Knights

Welcome to the FOS Game Week Blitz for Penn State's first outing of the season and first competition on international soil as the Nittany Lions take on the UCF Knights.

The Blitz was one of the most popular features at the old PSU Playbook, the grass-roots site which was a big part of the entities that united to create back in 2004. Though the name of the site changed, we kept right on blitzing.

The idea behind The Blitz? Former Playbook scribes (and current FOS staffers) Mark Harrington (MH) and Nirav Dalal (ND) provide a fans' eye breakdown of the upcoming game. They discuss and debate pertinent issues, matchups and injuries, and — of course — provide their predictions. They also take an overview of the entire weekend in college football.

Like a pair of (undersized and very slow) outside linebackers, they pin back their ears and get after it. Sometimes they come through with big hits, other times they miss. But they always enjoy themselves.

MH: It’s a new era of Penn State football under James Franklin, and it’s kicking off “across the pond” in Ireland in what is Penn State’s first ever game on international soil. The Nittany Lions are still under the boot of NCAA sanctions in what could be their toughest campaign yet, but they are facing a UCF team that lost QB Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson to the NFL.

ND: It is a new era. Penn State has a new coach and he has injected the team, the university and the entire state with enthusiasm and passion. The Lions are suffering with some issues in terms of depth but Franklin and his coaches will not be using that as an excuse. The motto was to Dominate the State during recruiting. Now, the Lions will set their sights to Dominate the Slate.

Who: Penn State vs. UCF

When: Saturday, August 30st at 8:30 am ET, 5:30 am PT

Where: Croke Park Stadium in Dublin, Ireland

Series: Penn State leads 2-1


Line: Even


MH: Shifting the format a bit, we’re going to toss the key aspects of Penn State's game in this week’s match-up. This is the PSU Playbook.

LINE STRENGTH: A big question with a young, fresh PSU line featuring the likes of Andrew Nelson, Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia, is whether they can pick up the pass rush of the Knights consistently and preserve the pocket for Christian Hackenberg to five him time. UCF will toss a lot of looks at the fresh line trying to pinpoint some weak points to exploit.

CATCHING ON: Another big key for the boys in blue is how the receiving corp will emerge for Hackenberg. Matt Zanellato is the elder of the group as a junior, but despite seeing action in all 12 games in 2013 he only grabbed four receptions for 53 yards. This means young players like Geno Lewis, Chris Godwin and DaeSean Hamilton will have to get up to speed quickly to boost the pass attack.

O CAPTAIN: Pushed into the pool as a true freshman, Hackenberg showed the college football world he was a good swimmer (not to mention passer). This season he’s without veteran receiver support and will have to shoulder more of the load. Toss on the title of captain (PSU’s youngest ever) and he’s also one who will have to lead beyond the huddle. From what we’ve seen in the off-season, this should prove to be a strong point for the Lions.

TRENCH WARFARE: The experience up front with C,J. Olaniyan, Deion Barnes and Anthony Zettel, not to mention their collective attitude, should be a strong point for the defense. It’ll have to be for Penn State to get early pressure on the pocket and force some short drives.

’BACKER IN ACTION: Linebacker U. is thin this season. The good news is that senior veteran standout Mike Hull is leading the charge on the inside and Nyeem Wartman and Brandon Bell have the athleticism to make an impact at the position. However, to run any sort of significant rotation the coaches will have to see some younger, inexperienced players emerge quickly.

COVER ME: The secondary is a veteran group led by Adrian Amos. He unit has some impressive speed and will be an interesting one to watch in the opener to see how aggressive the new staff plays them, particularly in blitz packages.

ND: In this section, we will review this week’s opponent, the UCF Knights.

FOR PETE’S SAKE: With Blake Bortles taking his talents to Jaguars, Coach George O’Leary hands the keys to redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo. DiNovo is a pro-style QB that is 6’3” and has some decent mobility. The offense that Bortles ran last year will remain mostly the same for DiNovo.

WEATHERING THE STORM: Penn State will be thankful to see that Storm Johnson has left UCF after he gashed PSU last year in Happy Valley. William Stanback will do most of the heavy lifting and he is a real threat out of the backfield, which will give DiNovo a great option in check-downs. As a runner, Stanback is a beast. He’s more like a linebacker running the ball. He’s all shoulders and thighs.

DEEP SOUTH: The best friend for a QB with no starting experience is a strong WR corp. UCF returns almost their entire WR group from last year. They return 3 seniors, 1 junior and even pick up Jackie Williams, who transfers from UAB and leaves as one of the best Blazer receivers in history. PSU’s strong secondary will be tested by arguably one of the best receiving corps they will face this season.

MIDDLE MAN: Terrance Plummer returns as one of the better MLBs in the nation. He was the defensive MVP in the Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor and has amazing instincts for a smaller (6’1”) MLB. He plays like London Fletcher and will be tough for the PSU Oline to block.

SAFETY DANCE: UCF returns 9 starters from last year’s squad. Though they will be missing the beast defensive tackle, E.J. Dunston, Clayton Geathers could be the best player on the squad. The massive safety totaled 100 tackles and considering the remarkable experience and talent in the secondary for UCF, Coach O’Leary will probably have Geathers attacking the line of scrimmage to stuff the run and get pressure on Christian Hackenberg.

MH: Penn State has to come out fast and hard and make some big plays on both sides of the ball. Letting UCF hang around will prove dangerous and breed opportunities for mistakes with the younger, less experienced corners of the squad.

ND: UCF has a ton of experience except at the QB position. The ability to get pressure on Pete DiNovo will be critical to get turnovers. PSU has to play the field position game and limit turnovers to win this one.

MH: Although this looks to have the makings of a defensive battle, I suspect Penn State's air attack will turn some heads and allow the Lions to mount some key scoring drives. Toss in some innovative looks from James Franklin and company and the Lions should leave Ireland with a W.

Penn State 24, UCF 17

ND: Both teams have a fantastic defense and that will keep points at a premium. The time difference and the low temps will also create a bit of a shock to the UCF players. The star of the game will be Jesse James as he hauls in the game winner in the 4th quarter.

Penn State 17, UCF 13

Until next time,

Fight On State!

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