Penn State vs. UCF: Game Grades, Analysis for the Nittany Lions

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistAugust 30, 2014

Aug 30, 2014; Dublin, IRL;  Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Christian Hackenberg warms up before the game between the Central Florida Knights and the Penn State Nittany Lions at Croke Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

The Penn State Nittany Lions defeated the Central Florida Knights 26-24 after Sam Ficken drilled a 36-yard field goal as time expired.

As the dust settles in Dublin, it's time to pass out grades for Penn State's performance in the 2014 season opener.

Penn State Nittany Lions Game Grades
Positional UnitFirst-Half GradeFinal Grade
Pass OffenseBB+
Run OffenseFF
Pass DefenseA-C+
Run DefenseAA-
Special TeamsAA
vs. UCF in Week 1


Pass Offense

Christian Hackenberg tossed two interceptions and made a few more questionable throws, but he was otherwise spectacular. The sophomore set a school record with 454 passing yards, connecting with Geno Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton a combined 19 times for 338 yards and one touchdown.

Jesse James added seven catches and 60 yards, giving Hackenberg a reliable target in the middle of the field.

Run Offense

DUBLIN, IRELAND - AUGUST 30:   Zach Zwinak #28 of Penn State is tackled by Thomas Niles #69 and Brandon Alexander #37 of UCF during the Croke Park Classic American Football match between Penn State v Central Florida at Croke Park Stadium on August 30, 201
Patrick Bolger/Getty Images

Bad, bad, bad. The Penn State offensive line struggled to control the line of scrimmage, and the running backs found few open lanes. Between Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton, the Nittany Lions managed just 48 yards on 22 attempts.

With a total of three yards, Hackenberg was the team's leading rusher at halftime. Yeah, it was that bad.

Pass Defense

Penn State's secondary started well, holding UCF to just 18 passing yards throughout the first 30 minutes. However, some of that success can be attributed to Pete DiNovo's less-than-stellar play, and he was subsequently replaced by Justin Holman.

During the second half, Holman made a few tough throws and engineered three scoring drives largely by his arm.

Run Defense

Central Florida was without powerful back Will Stanback, but the Nittany Lions proved strong in the trenches. Penn State held the Knights to 24 yards on 29 attempts.

Ultimately, the biggest negative was Holman's go-ahead touchdown via a well-timed quarterback draw.

Special Teams

Saved by the boot. Ficken connected on all four field goals, with his longest being the game-winning 36-yarder. He also converted on a pair of extra points.

Grant Haley averaged 28.8 yards per kick return, and Chris Gulla's lone punt traveled 41 yards.


James Franklin's debut was not crisp, making a few strange decisions highlighted by poor clock management that nearly cost Penn State a chance to win. Defensively, Bob Shoop had a decent gameplan, limiting UCF to 246 offensive yards.

Offensive coordinator John Donovan repeatedly gave his quarterback an excellent opportunity to succeed. Both interceptions were Hackenberg's mistakes and not a result of questionable plays.


Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.