There haven't been many times over the years where you could blame a Penn State loss on a lackluster defensive performance.
However, in Saturday's 34-31 lost to Central Florida, the defense was definitely at fault. The Nittany Lions defense surrendered an astonishing 507 total yards of offense to the Knights enroute to three point non-conference defeat.
The last time a Penn State team allowed that much yardage was in the 2012 TicketCity Bowl, when Case Keenum and Houston racked up 600 total yards. The last time the Nittany Lions gave up that many yards in a regular season game was in 2001 against Michigan State, when they allowed 542 yards.
So, it's safe to say the Penn State defense has not allowed many teams to dominate them offensively, especially at home. But that's exactly what happened on Saturday.
"We didn't tackle very well, they blocked us. We made some plays. Again, give them a lot of credit. They had a good plan, they have a great staff," said Penn State coach Bill O'Brien. "We have a great staff. They beat us tonight fair and square. We just have to regroup tomorrow and figure out what we can do better. One thing I know about the guys in that locker room, like I've said a million times, I really enjoy coaching them and they never quit, they never quit. It's a lot of fun to coach these kids. We'll do better, we'll keep improving."
O'Brien mentioned in his weekly press conference on Tuesday that UCF quarterback Blake Bortles had all the intangibles of a pro quarterback. Bortles certainly backed up that statement, throwing for 288 yards and three touchdowns. Anytime the Knights were in a tough third down situation, the junior signal caller came through for his team. UCF was an impressive 7 for 12 on third down.
"Blake Bortles is a heck of a player. They have a good football team, you have to give them a lot of credit," said O'Brien. "They're well coached. We made too many mistakes tonight. They capitalized on them and you have to give them a lot of credit. He's a heck of a player. All credit to Central Florida."
Another issue that seemed to hamper the Nittany Lions on the day was their inability to get pressure on the quarterback. Bortles was able to just sit back in the pocket and pick apart the Penn State secondary. The UCF offensive line did not allow a sack on the day.
"It's a team loss. Both sides of the ball need to improve, special teams need to improve. Nobody's going anywhere," said O'Brien. "We're just going to go back to the drawing board tomorrow and figure out what we can do better and coach these guys better and get them to play better. Like I told the kids after the game, `We're with you; you're with us through thick and thin. Everyone look in the mirror and see what we can do better tomorrow."
The one time the Penn State defense did actually got pressure on the quarterback it put the Nittany Lions back in the game. The Nittany Lions forced the Knights to punt around the three minute mark in the fourth quarter after Bortles was forced to throw the ball away. A high snap on the punt then gave the ball to the Nittany Lions on the UCF 25 yard line. Three plays later Christian Hackenberg found Allen Robinson for a five yard touchdown pass to bring PSU within three.
The Penn State defense couldn't get the stops it needed on UCF's next possession and the Knights ran out the clock.
However, the positive on the day was the Penn State offense.
The Nittany Lions "O" gained an impressive 455 yards of total offense and had more first downs (24) than UCF (20).
Hackenberg had another solid day under center throwing for 262 yards and a touchdown. Wide out Allen Robinson continued his successful 2013 campaign with his third consecutive 100-yard receiving performance. Robinson caught nine balls for 143 yards and a score. He is now fourth in all of college football with 132 receiving yards per game. Lastly, Zach Zwinak came up with his seventh career 100 yard rushing day, carrying the ball for 128 yards and three scores.
It's obvious when watching the Nittany Lions play that depth on the defensive side of the ball will be a problem in 2013. The evidence so far gathered from their first three games indicates that their offense will always give them a shot to stay in the ball game. If O'Brien and his staff can get the defense to create more pressure on the quarterback the Nittany Lions we'll be just fine. If not, then it could be a long season for PSU fans.