As impressive as the victory was, coming against a team that went 12-1 a year ago and returned nine starters to a powerful defense, it was hardly perfect. And that was not necessarily a bad thing in the eyes of James Franklin, who was coaching his first game on the PSU sideline.
We didn't play the prettiest game today, Franklin said. We did the things that you typically can't do. We had too many penalties. And we had turnovers. But the more important thing is these guys never stopped believing in each other, never stopped believing in the program, and they found a way to win.
That's a very, very important ingredient to have, he added.
PSU was slapped with nine penalties for 90 yards. There were three turnovers, including a pair of interceptions from the otherwise magnificent Christian Hackenberg. And while the defense was stout most of the day, it allowed a late 75-yard TD drive that looked like it might be a back-breaker.
Instead, with 1:08 remaining, Hackenberg led an 8-play, 55-yard drive that led to Ficken's field-goal attempt. And the senior banged it home to set off a celebration on the Croke Park pitch.
Here are the other ingredients to the victory.
MAN OF THE HOUR: Hackenberg connected on 32 of 47 passes for a school-record 454 yards and one score despite being the clear focal point of the UCF defense. He used his feet to avoid pass-rushers and his strong arm to make one unreal throw after another.
CLOSE SECOND: Franklin praised Ficken for being Penn State's most consistent player in the off-season and the kicker kept it up Saturday. On a breezy day, he made 4 of 4 field goals, including the game-winner.
CLOSE THIRD: DT Anthony Zettel was a beast at his new position. He had six tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack and a recovered fumble.
TURNING POINT: There were a lot of them in this game. But with PSU down 24-23 and facing fourth-and-3 from its own 33, Hackenberg tucked the ball and scrambled for eight tough yards. It kept the game-winning drive alive.
SOLID STRATEGY: It was clear early that PSU would struggle to run the ball against the talented UCF defense. So Franklin relied on his gunslinger. PSU had only 28 rushing attempts in the game (for 57 net yards) and 47 passing attempts.
NUMBERS GAME II: Penn State punted only once in the game. Newcomer Chris Gulla sent it 41 yards.
BUSINESS AS USUAL: TE Jesse James had seven catches for 60 yards but was slowed down a bit after a hard hit.
SPECIAL DELIVERY: Rookie Grant Haley had four kickoff returns for 144 yards. The kid is explosive.
WHAT'S UP WITH?
All of those penalties. The Lions really better clean up that area.
Penn State's head sets not working in the first quarter. Meanwhile UCF kept using its headsets. Franklin was told by an official that it was allowable for the Knights to do so. Seems like poor sportsmanship for George O'Leary and company not to switch them off as long as State's were out.
Lion corners not named Jordan Lucas giving up several big plays. Another area that must improve.
HIT SQUAD: LB Mike Hull looked comfortable in his new middle spot, making 11 tackles.
LOST IN THE SHUFFLE: Yes, the run game struggled. But the rebuilt offensive line did a decent job protecting Hackenberg. The QB was only sacked twice despite being blitzed often.
DID YOU NOTICE?
Penn State won the toss and deferred.
Bill Belton started at running back but had trouble getting anything going. He had 10 carries for 16 yards. But he had a big 13-yard gain on a flip pass from Hackenberg on the final drive.
Williams started at field corner, but Da'Quan Davis also played the position. Davis came in on PSU's third defensive series. Both were beaten on deep passes in the game
Brendan Mahon got the start at LG and played the whole game.
RT Andrew Nelson lined up near the left sideline on one play. Hackenberg missed James on a quick hitter.
UNANSWERED QUESTION: Will Penn State have its legs back in time for the home opener vs. Akron this week?