Placekicker Sam Ficken made a last-second field goal to give newly-inaugurated Penn State coach James Franklin a 26-24 win over Central Florida at Dublin's Croke Park Stadium Saturday morning. The Nittany Lions (1-0) dominated the stat sheet, outgaining the reigning Fiesta Bowl champions 511-246 and holding the ball for 34 minutes more than the Knights. Central Florida (0-1) forced three turnovers, but had to change quarterbacks and only found its offensive footing late in the game.
Despite racking up 208 yards of offense and holding Central Florida to just 46, Penn State held a tenuous 10-3 lead at halftime. UCF followed a Sam Ficken third-quarter field goal with a seven-play, 70-yard touchdown drive, narrowing the Penn State lead to three. Hackenberg responded with a 79-yard bomb to Geno Lewis on 3rd and 17 to restore Penn State's double-digit lead.
Central Florida put together another long scoring drive, covering 77 yards in seven plays, with backup quarterback Justin Holman completing a 10-yard touchdown pass to Josh Reese. Enter Hackenberg and Lewis again, this time on a 41-yard pass to convert another 3rd and long.
Penn State's offense stalled, and a field goal made it 23-17 in favor of the Nittany Lions with 3:30 to play. Holman quickly took UCF across midfield. Facing a 4th and 10, Holman connected on a 37-yard pass to Josh Reese, then ran a draw into the end zone to give UCF its first lead of the game.
Hackenberg brought Penn State's offense back onto the field with 1:08 to play and three timeouts. The sophomore led the Nittany Lions on an 8-play drive, converting a 4th and 3 with a scramble and connecting once again with Lewis to get Penn State into field goal range with three seconds to play. Ficken, who was a perfect 4/4 on the day, split the uprights from 37 yards out to give Penn State the victory.
"I don't know what the flight regulations are but we're going to be partying all the way home." JAMES!— Black Shoe Diaries (@BSDtweet) August 30, 2014
Three things we learned
1. Christian Hackenberg is the Big Ten's best quarterback. Braxton Miller's injury opened the question of which quarterback was the Big Ten's best. The highly-touted sophomore put any question of his conference supremacy to rest Saturday morning, completing 32 of 47 for a team record 454 yards and a touchdown. He completed passes to six different receivers, and averaged nearly 10 yards per attempt. The Penn State running game was largely ineffective -- running backs Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton combined for just 48 yards on 22 carries -- forcing the Nittany Lions to ride Hackenberg to victory.
2. UCF might miss Storm Johnson more than Blake Bortles. Central Florida starting quarterback Pete DiNovo went just 3/8 before being pulled in favor of Justin Holman, but the Knights' offense stabilized from there. Holman completed his first six attempts for 139 yards and a score, and looked to be in control. The running game, however, was a mess. Dontravious Wilson ran 21 times for just 34 yards, with 16 of those coming on one run. UCF stuck with him throughout, with no other apparent options.
3. Starting the season in Europe is hard. Both teams were sloppy throughout, with four turnovers and 17 penalties between them. During one fourth quarter sequence, the teams committed three turnovers in five plays. The surface on the Dublin rugby field certainly didn't help, as groundskeepers had to repair divots throughout the game.