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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Looking for their third-straight win to open the 2013 season, the Nittany Lions (2-0) host unbeaten Central Florida (2-0) in a non-conference tilt under the lights in Beaver Stadium on Saturday (6 p.m. on BTN).
Fueled by 574 total yards and a stifling effort from the defense, Penn State powered past Eastern Michigan by a score of 45-7 last week. Senior defensive tackle DaQuan Jones again led the Lion defense with a dominant performance. Jones has recorded nine tackles in each of the first two games to go along with five tackles for loss and two sacks. Collectively, the Nittany Lions held Eastern Michigan to just 183 yards of total offense.
Offensively, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch each rushed for 108 yards. Penn State's three-prong attack on the ground (Belton, Lynch and Zach Zwinak) accounted for five touchdowns and 259 rushing yards. True freshman Christian Hackenberg set a freshman record with 311 passing yards and tossed one touchdown to Allen Robinson. Robinson, who was one of nine Lions to tally a reception against Eastern Michigan, finished with seven catches for 129 yards.
The Nittany Lions play host to a physical UCF squad on Saturday evening. Led by head coach George O'Leary, who worked with Bill O'Brien for seven seasons while O'Leary was head coach at Georgia Tech, the Knights have out-scored their opponents (Akron and Florida International) 76-7 in the first two games of 2013. UCF shut out Florida International by a score of 38-0 in week two.
Penn State will host Community Heroes Day on Saturday. First responders will be celebrated throughout the 6 p.m. game, including a special recognition at halftime. The UCF game also serves as the U.S. launch for the 2014 Croke Park Classic between Penn State and UCF in Dublin, Ireland. A number of officials from Ireland's Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and Croke Park Stadium will be in attendance at the game. Additionally, a Penn State student White Out has been declared for this week's game.
Welcome to the Gameday Preview for the first primetime game of the 2013 season.
What to Watch For - Penn State
1. The triple threat running attack of Belton, Lynch and Zwinak were superb against Eastern Michigan last week. Averaging 8.9 yards per carry, the trio visited the end zone a combined five times in the victory. All three backs bring a unique style to the field, which creates a dynamic, fresh rusher for the Nittany Lions on every offensive series. Head coach Bill O'Brien said this week that he wants to see the three backs play more downhill than they did last week, but another strong day for the running game will be a big boost for the Lions against a physical UCF defense.
2. O'Brien told the media on Tuesday that he is expecting a physical football game on both sides of the ball against UCF. The physical play starts in the trenches for both teams. Offensively, the Nittany Lions will need a crisp, consistent performance from the offensive line to kick-start the rushing attack and to give Christian Hackenberg time to throw the football. Defensively, the physical play starts with Jones and Carson in the heart of the defense, who have both been lights out for two weeks. The outcome of Saturday's clash could likely be decided by the play in the trenches from both teams.
3. Penn State heads into week three looking to again limit the number of mistakes on both sides of the ball. The Lions committed five penalties and turned the ball over twice against Eastern Michigan last week. With a talented UCF team entering Beaver Stadium, Penn State knows that it will need to keep the mistakes to a minimum on Saturday evening. After taking a stride from week one to week two, look for Penn State to again improve on both sides of the ball and on special teams when it takes the field.
What to Watch For - UCF
1. The UCF offensive attack begins with redshirt junior quarterback Blake Bortles. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound signal-caller is a challenging matchup for the Nittany Lion defense. Bortles has good size and arm strength to go along with a high football IQ. He enters the game with 528 passing yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions thus far in 2013.
2. Through two games, the Central Florida defense has been superb. The Knights have allowed a total of seven points against Akron and Florida International. Led by junior middle linebacker Terrance Plummer, UCF plays a physical brand of football on defense. UCF's starting two interior defensive linemen stand at 6-2, 303 pounds and 6-2, 302 pounds. UCF has allowed an average of 211.5 yards per game. Slowing down the Penn State rushing attack will be key for the Knight defense.
3. Central Florida has been a consistent, disciplined team in 2013. The Knights have not turned the ball over this season, and they have only committed six penalties. In addition to the aforementioned battle in the trenches, the turnover margin will key in deciding the outcome. As a side note, UCF's roster features just eight seniors, the second-fewest in the nation.
The Final Word:
O'Leary hired O'Brien as a graduate assistant coach in the spring of 1995 at Georgia Tech. The graduate assistant position kick-started O'Brien's coaching path to the New England Patriots and now Penn State. O'Leary and O'Brien will now be facing off against one another for the first time. On the field, Penn State will receive a boost when Mike Hull returns to the defense for the first time since the season-opener. Offensively, keep an eye on Allen Robinson, who enters the game leading the Big Ten with 14 receptions for 262 yards and two touchdowns.
While the game will start in the twilight hours, the lights will be on in Beaver Stadium for the first time in 2013. This marks the 14th-straight season that Penn State has played at least one night game. The nighttime atmosphere in Beaver Stadium is unlike any other game on the schedule. The players and coaches feed off the electric atmosphere under the lights.
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