Week three of the Penn State football season offers some intriguing storylines as the Central Florida Knights come to Beaver Stadium for a 6 p.m. (BIG 10 Network, ET) kickoff.
Perhaps, maybe the most interesting of all the hot topics is the fact that Bill O'Brien will be facing off with UCF head coach George O'Leary. O'Leary gave O'Brien his first job at Georgia Tech as a grad assistant where eventually moved through the ranks to become offensive coordinator for the Yellow Jackets.
O'Brien explained in his weekly press conference that the two coaches still have a good relationship. Also, the story of how O'Brien got the job at Georgia Tech is a pretty interesting tale.
"It's kind of an interesting story," said O'Brien. "I was a graduate assistant at Brown and after I graduated from Brown I went to work at Brown. The first year at Brown, I worked for Mickey Kwiatkowski and was basically the tight ends coach. Mark Whipple got the job at Brown after Mickey was let go, and I moved over to defense as a (linebackers coach). When I started to apply for graduate assistant jobs, I told Jim Bernhardt, who works for us at Penn State, but coached with me at Brown, that I wanted to be a graduate assistant. Jim had a relationship with George O'Leary from being a high school coach on Long Island when George was an assistant college coach at Syracuse and used to recruit Jimmy's high school. There was a big New York/Long Island connection there. George called Jimmy and asked if he knew anybody that's smart enough to get into graduate school at Georgia Tech and dumb enough to want to coach football and Jimmy said, I got just the guy for you."
O'Brien started at Georgia Tech in 1995 and now 18 years later he's facing his mentor in what looks to be a pretty nice challenge for the Nittany Lions later tonight.
The UCF Knights are coming into State College with a lot of confidence, averaging 38 points per game and outscoring their opponents by a score 76-7. They have multiple weapons on the offensive side of the ball, starting with 6-4 230 pound quarterback Blake Bortles. According to O'Brien Bortles is a pro prospect and his numbers certainly back up that statement.
Bortles has thrown for 528 yards and four touchdowns with a completion percentage that is nearly 70 percent.
"One thing you need to understand about their offense is that they have a really good quarterback." said O'Brien. "It's hard to totally stop a guy like that, but you've got to try to contain him. He's very, very good. He's a pro prospect."
The Knights have some other weapons on offense as well with running back Storm Johnson, who has five rushing touchdowns already this season and wide receivers Rannell Hall and Breshad Perriman. Hall has 181 yards and a score on the year, while Perriman has 125 yards and a touchdown. What's even more impressive about Hall and Perriman is that Hall is averaging 25.9 yards per catch and Perriman is averaging 31.9. Meaning, they both have big play capability.
Defensively UCF has been just as impressive.
The Knights have given up just 2.6 yards per rush and only 129 yards passing per contest. All in all they've given up just 211 yards per game on offense, which means the Penn State offense looks to have their work cut out for them.
"UCF is very sound on defense," said O'Brien. "They're going to line up, and they're going to know what to do. They're very physical and they're well coached. That has a lot to do with the players that they have and the coaching staff they have, but the type of defense they play doesn't really lend itself to giving up explosive plays. In order to get an explosive play, we're going to have to work real hard to come up with something we think will work and then execute it on game day."
In order for Penn State to be successful it's important for true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg to play well. "Hack" set a Penn State freshman record for passing yards in a game last week with 311 and looked good for most of the day. The best thing about Hackenberg's performance was that he did not get off to a good start, but rallied back to have a record-setting day. Resiliency is always a great quality to have in a quarterback and for Hackenberg to show that trait so early on in his career is definitely a sign of good things to come.
Penn State receiver Allen Robinson will also be looking to get his third consecutive 100-yard game and the Penn State rushing trio of Zack Zwinak, Bill Belton, and Akeel Lynch must also give Hackenberg support in the run game. The Penn State rushing attack will try to build off their 251 yard performance they had on the ground last week.
Lastly, on offense tight end Kyle Carter needs to get going for the Nittany Lions. Carter has just two catches on the season and is too good of a player and asset for the Penn State offense to be stifled once again in week three.
On defense, Penn State defensive tackle DaQuan Jones needs to continue to be a wrecking ball this week. He's had back to back nine tackle performances and leads the BIG 10 in tackles or a loss with five. Jones' ability to get into the backfield and create pressure on the quarterback will be even more important this week with Bortle's ability to make big plays.
Mike Hull's availability in the game will also be important for the Nittany Lions at the linebacker position. Hull is definitely banged up and if he's not able to go then Stephen Obeng-Agyapong will be the one to fill that spot.
Even if Penn State does everything right, UCF still has the ability to go shot for shot with the Nittany Lions and O'Brien is well aware of the threat the Knights pose.
"We face a big challenge this weekend against UCF. They're an excellent football team," said O'Brien. "They're very well coached. They're sound and they're physical at all positions. It's not like they're just physical on the offensive and defensive line. To me, they're a physical team at every position. Our players have to be ready for a physical football game because this won't be a game for the faint of heart, and that's a coach O'Leary trademark."
My pick is Penn State 24, Central Florida 21.