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Monday Notebook: B1G Honors to Kick Off Akron Week

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10268294.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - On the heels of a dramatic 26-24 victory over UCF to open the season in Ireland, the Nittany Lions are focused solely on one thing: Saturday's home-opener against Akron (Noon on ABC).

While the win over UCF is a big confidence boost heading into the remainder of the season, the only game on the schedule for the team is the one this week.

"The win means a lot to the team because it's something where we all had to come together, and we accomplished something as a group. It's a game to build on," said redshirt freshman offensive tackle Andrew Nelson.

"It means we got off to a good start, but we now focused on Akron," junior defensive end Deion Barnes said.

After practicing on Sunday, Monday is an off day for the players. The team will get back to work on Tuesday, which is also media day for Akron week.

Ficken, Hamilton Headline Big Ten Awards
The Nittany Lions received good news on Monday with the Big Ten's announcement that Sam Ficken (Special Teams) and DaeSean Hamilton (Co-Freshman) were named players of the week for their efforts against UCF on Saturday.

Ficken converted a career-high four field goals (4-for-4), including a 36-yard game-winner to lift the Nittany Lions past UCF. Monday's honor marked the third time Ficken has been selected Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week.

Hamilton made an immediate impact in his first outing as a Nittany Lion. The redshirt freshman re-wrote the record book for Nittany Lion rookies with his 11 catches for 165 yards against UCF. Hamilton took a workmanlike approach to the offseason while building a rapport with Christian Hackenberg. The duo got off to a spectacular start across the pond.

"I was just hoping to go out there and make the plays that were coming to me," Hamilton said. "And then after the first catch, I just started to get into a groove.

Hackenberg Stands Alone in 400 Club
Sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg is the only player in Penn State Football's illustrious 128-year history to reach 400 passing yards in a game. Hackenberg finished 32-of-47 for 454 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. The Nittany Lion sophomore connected with seven different receivers in the victory, including three players who had seven or more catches. Zack Mills previously owned the game passing record mark with 399 yards against Iowa in 2002.

Final Numbers

Take a look through some standout numbers from the season-opener against UCF.

3,332 - The Nittany Lions tangled with UCF 3,332 miles away from Beaver Stadium, marking the furthest distance Penn State has ever played a game on the road.

454 - Christian Hackenberg set a school record with 454 passing yards in the victory over UCF.

338 - Geno Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton combined for 338 receiving yards on Saturday. Each player topped 150 receiving yards, which marked the first time in program history that two players tallied 150 receiving yards or more.

94 - Penn State now has 94 victories in season-openers. The Lions are 94-20-2 all-time in the first game of the season.

18 - Placekicker Sam Ficken noted after the game that he had to play the wind on the final field goal inside Croke Park. The wind speed during the game in Dublin on Saturday was 18 mph.

11 - There were 11 players who saw the field for the first time as a Penn State player on Saturday. The list included six redshirt freshmen and five true freshmen.

7 - Junior tight end Jesse James tallied a career-high seven receptions against UCF.

6.8 - The Penn State offense averaged 6.8 yards per play in the season-opener.

5 - Five days remain until the Nittany Lions meet Akron in Beaver Stadium.


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VIDEO: Postgame Press Conference In Ireland - vs. UCF

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VIDEO: Player Interviews

DUBLIN, Ireland - Head into the media room following a thrilling 26-24 victory over UCF in the Croke Park Classic to hear from head coach James Franklin, quarterback Christian Hackenberg and defensive tackle Anthony Zettel.






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VIDEO: Postgame Player Interviews from Ireland

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VIDEO: Postgame Press Conference

DUBLIN, Ireland - Hear from several Nittany Lions following Penn State's thrilling 26-24 victory over UCF in the Croke Park Classic.




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Lions' Will to Win Shines on Final Drive in Ireland

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irelandblog_story_drive.jpgVIDEO: Postgame Press Conference | VIDEO: Postgame Player Interviews

DUBLIN, Ireland - It was almost as if a sense of calm came over the Penn State sideline on the pitch in Croke Park Stadium on Saturday afternoon when UCF capped off a 75-yard drive with a go-ahead touchdown as the clock read 1:13 to play.

Down 24-23, Christian Hackenberg trotted onto the field with three timeouts in his pocket knowing he need to get the ball into field goal range or the game was over. While he is just a sophomore, Hackenberg has the poise of a senior and was no stranger to the stakes.

"We were excited. This team has been there before," Hackenberg said. "Even though we are young, we knew what we could do. Geno (Lewis) made a big play. Bill (Belton) made a fantastic play to get out of bounds. It's just one of those things where guys stepped up."

From top to bottom, the offensive unit never doubted how the game was going to end. That says a lot about the leadership in the huddle on an offense that had five players starting in their first game on Saturday.

"We all believed in each other," redshirt freshman Andrew Nelson said. "We all knew that the person next to you had your back. We had repped it in practice, and we were confident in what we were going to do."

"Whenever he is out there, everyone has the most confidence in him," senior Mike Hull said. "When he is in a two-minute situation at the end of a game, we know he is going to get the job done."

The final drive began at the Penn State 26-yard line. Hackenberg connected with Geno Lewis for a seven-yard gain. Following a third-down incompletion, the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year made a quick decision to scramble for a do-or-die first down on fourth-and-three.

"I knew it was fourth down and if I was going to go, I had to go," Hackenberg said. "I just tried to get as much as I could."

One play later, Hackenberg shoveled a pass to Bill Belton, who raced 13 yards to the UCF 46. Lewis and Hackenberg connected for completions of nine and 18 yards, respectively, on the next two plays.

"It's just like it was last year, we practice it so much, and the coaches do such a great job of putting us in situations (on the practice field)," Hackenberg said. "I think today, guys went out and they wanted it. Guys made plays."

The final reception to Lewis led to a Nittany Lion timeout with three seconds on the clock.

Ficken trotted onto the field with the kicking unit, and the rest will live in Penn State and Croke Park lore.

"It wasn't a really difficult kick. The wind was blowing right to left," Ficken said. "I asked them to get the ball to the right side of the field so that I could play the wind a little better. The snap was good. The hold was good. Honestly, I didn't hit it great, but it went through and that's all that matters."

As the 36-yard kick sailed inside the right upright to give Penn State a 26-24 victory, the Lions stormed the field to chase after Ficken, who made a victory lap in front of the more than 15,000 Penn State fans who flew across the pond to see the game. The field goal made it a storybook ending for head coach James Franklin's first win as Penn State head coach.

"That guy has had as consistent of a spring and summer as anyone on our team," Franklin said. "I'm just happy for him...He's a perfect example of people in life and in this program that if you stay positive, persevere and keep working, good things will happen."

After landing in Pittsburgh on Saturday night around 11 p.m. ET and a bus ride to State College, the team will get some rest before getting right back to work on Sunday in preparation for Saturday's home opener against Akron.

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2014 Photo Blog - Penn State vs. UCF

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DUBLIN, Ireland - Welcome to GoPSUsports.com's coverage of the 2014 football season. Check back often for an inside look at the Lions' season-opener across the pond in Dublin.


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2014 Game Blog - Penn State vs. UCF

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DUBLIN, Ireland - Welcome to GoPSUsports.com's live, interactive coverage of the 2014 football season. Tune in for live blog coverage from all 12 games on the schedule. We kick things off today with coverage from the season-opener inside Croke Park against UCF in Ireland.


Live Blog 2014 Game Blog - Penn State vs. UCF
 



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Nittany Lions Greeted By Huge Crowd in Dublin on Friday

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irelandblog_18.jpgLIVE GAME BLOG

Gameday Preview | Photo Gallery |  Ireland Day I Coverage | Ireland Day II Coverage


DUBLIN, Ireland - Approximately 10,000 boisterous Penn State fans filled every inch of the cobblestones on Essex Street East in Dublin on Friday afternoon to give the Nittany Lions a warm welcome across the pond.

The crowd began forming around the pep rally stage more than an hour prior to the start of the scheduled event. The Blue and White supporters surrounded the stage from street level to the rooftops. The Nittany Lion, Blue Band, cheerleaders and Lionettes performed before a host of speakers addressed the crowd.

"Penn State nation has descended on Dublin," said Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour.

"You guys take road trip to a new level," said Hall of Fame and Nittany Lion great Jack Ham.

Approximately 20 members of the 2014 squad walked onto the small stage to say hello to the fans in attendance. Juniors Ben Kline and Matt Zanellato spoke to electric crowd.

"We came here to get an unbelievable education and play in front of the best fans in the world. This is what we are talking about," said junior Matt Zanellato.

The Nittany Lions held a walkthrough at UCD on Friday morning before having lunch inside Trinity College. From there, the team filled three double-decker buses for a narrated tour through the city. On seemingly every city corner during the bus tour, the players exchanged "We Are" chants with Penn State fans. Nittany Nation traveled in great numbers to Dublin for the Croke Park Classic.

The support across the pond on Friday was tremendous as the season-opener approaches.

Take a look at some snapshots from Friday's festivities in Dublin.

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2014 Gameday Preview - Lions Open Season In Dublin

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LIVE GAME BLOG

Game Notes | Depth Chart | UCF Scouting Report | Huge Crowd Greets Lions in Ireland

Ireland Day I Coverage | Ireland Day II Coverage | Ireland Photo Gallery

DUBLIN, Ireland - For the first time in its 128-year gridiron history, the Nittany Lion football team will play an international game. Penn State is set to meet UCF in the season-opening Croke Park Classic on Saturday (8:30 a.m. on ESPN2) in Ireland.

Head coach James Franklin will debut as leader of the Nittany Lions when he leads the team onto the infamous Irish pitch inside Croke Park Stadium. The Blue and White enter the season with seven returning starters on both offense and defense. The Lions begin the season with 54 true or redshirt freshmen on the roster.

Penn State traveled to Dublin overnight on Tuesday. After practicing at University College Dublin for three days, the Nittany Lions are focused on the season-opener against a very talented UCF squad. On the heels of a 12-1 season and a win in the Fiesta Bowl, the Knights are under the direction of 18-year veteran head coach George O'Leary.

The long wait is over. The 2014 Penn State Football season is here.  Welcome to an international version of the Gameday Preview for the season-opener against the UCF Knights.

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Pregame Reading:
What to Watch For - Penn State
1. The Nittany Lions have been more than 3,000 miles away from Happy Valley since Wednesday morning, so game week has been anything but normal from a travel perspective. But the on-field preparations and meetings have been business as usual for the Nittany Lions across the pond. Penn State held three practices in Ireland and usual gameplan meetings throughout the week. The schedule has been as close to a typical game week as possible. As Coach Franklin has said all week, this is a business trip for the team and its staff. The Lions have been exposed to some of the finest cuisine and sites in Ireland during the week, but the group has been focused on the task at hand since it arrived.

10256181.jpeg2. Reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Christian Hackenberg will lead the Nittany Lion offense for the second-straight season. Hackenberg, who was voted captain by his peers during training camp, is an improved player in all facets of the game after a strong offseason in the weight room and on the field. Franklin has noted several times during the offseason that the cast of players surrounding the quarterback is the key group to keep an eye on. Headlining the cast is a pair of senior running backs - Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak - and a corps of veteran tight ends led by Jesse James and Kyle Carter. Keep an eye on the youthful receiving corps made up of Geno Lewis, DaeSean Hamilton, Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall.

3. The Penn State defense had a superb training camp season. A group filled with veterans, the Nittany Lions enter the season with eight defensive starters who are juniors or seniors. The man calling the shots on the defensive side of the ball is fifth-year senior Mike Hull. Hull is the team's top returning tackler (78 stops in 2013). In addition to Hull, defensive end C.J. Olaniyan and safeties Ryan Keiser and Adrian Amos will start as seniors. Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop wants to see an attacking style with relentless pursuit of the ball every time his unit steps onto the field.

What to Watch For - UCF
1. The UCF defense features nine returning starters from last year's team that went 12-1. The Knights finished in the nation's top 20 in scoring defense in 2013, allowing just 21.3 points per game. Bednarik Award candidate Terrance Plummer returns as the team's top tackler. He finished with 110 tackles in 2013. The UCF secondary features two Jim Thorpe Award candidates in senior Clayton Geathers and sophomore cornerback Jacoby Glenn. Geathers recorded 100 stops, two interceptions and 10 pass breakups last season. Glenn had two interceptions and 15 pass breakups.

10256196.jpeg2. The Penn State coaching staff believes UCF has among the top receiving units that the Nittany Lions will face all season. Senior Rannell Hall made 57 receptions for 886 yards and had five touchdowns last year. Junior Breshad Perriman averaged nearly 21 yards per reception in 2013. Perriman finished with 811 yards and 39 catches. J.J. Worton is the third key contributor in the receiving corps. Worton tallied 47 receptions and seven touchdowns last season. Former UCF quarterback and NFL first-round selection Black Bortles is now playing on Sundays. Redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo will make his first career start, but he has a talented cast of receivers on the field to distribute the ball to.

3. The Knights also enter the season with a solid group of specialists on the depth chart. Placekicker Shawn Moffitt is a Lou Groza Award candidate after going 21-for-23 on field goal attempts in 2013. Punter Caleb Houston averaged 42.2 yards per punt last season, as well. Hall (KR) and Worton (PR) are the team's return threats. Hall is among UCF's leaders in nearly every kickoff return category. Worton has 55 punt returns for 573 yards in his career.


The Final Word:
Historic Croke Park will play host to Saturday's clash between Penn State and UCF. Finished in 1913, Croke Park Stadium has a 69,000-seat capacity for the football game. Home of the Gaelic Games, the stadium is a large structure that towers over most of the buildings in Dublin, but does so with an intimate feel inside. The sports and cultural heritage of the stadium can be felt from the moment an individual walks inside. The pitch is hallowed ground not touched by anyone but competitors or the grounds crew. The pitch itself is large enough to fit more than two football fields across it, giving Saturday's game a unique look. The football lines will be centered in the pitch, which provides significant space between the sidelines and the stadium structure. Playing inside Croke Park means a lot to the Nittany Lions.

"There is no doubt that it is a national treasure for them," Franklin said. "Sports are very, very important in this country. I think the whole thing has been surreal in a lot of ways."


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Day Two Coverage of the Nittany Lions in Ireland

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10255504.jpegDay I Coverage in Ireland | Photo Gallery

DUBLIN, Ireland. - 
With the season-opener looming on Saturday inside Croke Park (8:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2), it was business as usual for the Nittany Lions on Thursday in their game preparations in Ireland.

The team held its normal team and position meetings in the morning before traveling to University College of Dublin (UCD) for practice. 
The Lions finished a busy Thursday in Ireland with a team meal at the Guinness Storehouse high above the Dublin skyline.

Head coach James Franklin was pleased with the team's focus level at practice on Thursday, and he said that he feels like the team is ready for the opener against UCF.

"We got really good work done. We basically repeated yesterday's practice, but went full speed," Franklin said. "Mother Nature cooperated. The weather is beautiful. We got a lot of really good work done...I think the guys have had a really good experience. The hotel has been unbelievable. The GAA has been unbelievable. And we are excited to get out there and play."

The team will hold its normal walkthrough on Friday at UCD before meetings and a team meal on Friday evening. Franklin said he feels good about where the team is heading into the final day of prep for Saturday's game.

"I think every day that it gets closer there is more anticipation," Franklin said. "There is no doubt about that. But I'm not a guy that gets excited until the morning of the game. Usually, I sleep very well the night before the game. I wake up that morning and kind of get those butterflies. In the locker room, I get the butterflies. And things like that. But before that, there are things like today that we have to get cleaned up that are on our mind. Until all of those things are done, that's where my focus is."


James Franklin Practice Update - Thursday


Following the practice session on Thursday, the Nittany Lions received an interactive informational session on Gaelic football and hurling, two games that are a fixture in Ireland. The Lions split into groups for hands-on instruction for both sports before professionals put on an exhibition of the two sports. Cormac o'Donnoha, Director of Experience Gaelic Games, led the instruction at UCD. Take a look.

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The day concluded with a terrific factory tour and meal at the Guinness Storehouse in downtown Dublin. The team visited several levels of the factory before congregating on the fifth floor of the building for a buffet dinner. The building where the Storehouse is located was built in 1902 as a fermentation plant for the St. James's Gate Brewery. It was the first multi-story steel-framed structure to be built in Ireland.

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2014 Football Opponent Previews - UCF

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9362541.jpegUCF, Croke Park, Dublin, Ireland, 8:30 a.m. ET, ESPN2


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Knights, led by George O'Leary, open their 2014 campaign looking to repeat as American Athletic Conference champions.  UCF finished last year with a 12-1 record, including 8-0 in the AAC.  They were selected for their first BCS bowl in program history, defeating Baylor 52-42 in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.  O'Leary enters his 11th year as UCF's head coach with a 72-56 career record and was named AAC Coach of the Year in 2013.

The Knights return six starters from an offense that averaged 30.4 points and 441.5 yards per game last year.  UCF must replace three All-AAC offensive linemen and their backfield. 

UCF will have a new quarterback in 2014 after Blake Bortles entered the NFL Draft and was selected third overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars.  The Knights will start redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo, native of Tarpon Springs, Fla. DiNovo got the nod over Justin Holman and Boise State transfer Nick Patti.

The Knights will also have a new running back after Storm Johnson also entered the draft.  Six-foot-one, 225-pound sophomore William Stanback will take over the main role after gaining 443 yards and six touchdowns on 105 carries (4.2 yards per carry).  The Doak Walker Award candidate also caught 15 passes for 186 yards and a score. 

A talented receiver group will lead the offense with three of their top four wideouts back from 2013.  Each receiver brings a good combination of size and speed that will be a challenge for a Penn State secondary that is one of the most experienced units on the defense. 

Senior Rannell Hall led the team with 886 yards on 57 catches, while adding five touchdowns.  The 6-foot-1 Hall will also contribute on kick returns after he averaged nearly 24 yards per return in 2013.

Joining Hall are junior Breshad Perriman and redshirt senior J.J. Worton.  The 6-foot-3 Perriman averaged almost 21 yards per catch last year, totaling 811 yards and four touchdowns on 39 catches. Worton, 6-foot-2, gained 721 yards and seven scores on 47 receptions. Worton will also contribute on punt returns.  Tight end Justin Tukes caught 13 passes for 116 yards and a score last year.

The offensive line will include three new starters after All-AAC linemen Chris Martin, Jordan McCray and Justin McCray all graduated.  Tackle Torrian Wilson returns and was named a preseason First Team All-AAC player by Phil Steele. 

UCF returns nine starters from a defense that ranked among the nation's top 20 in scoring defense in 2013, allowing just 21.3 points per game.  They also had a strong run defense, giving up 122.5 yards per game.

The Knight defensive line is led by two redshirt juniors, tackle Demetris Anderson and end Thomas Niles.  Anderson recorded 24 tackles, including seven for loss and a sack in 2013, while Niles compiled 30 tackles, with eight for loss and four sacks. 

Bednarik Award candidate Terrance Plummer leads the linebacking corps.  Plummer led the knights with 110 tackles, 62 solo, and 8.5 for loss. He added 2.5 sacks and two interceptions as well as two forced fumbles.

The secondary returns all four starters, including two Jim Thorpe Award candidates.  Redshirt senior safety Clayton Geathers recorded 100 tackles, 64 solo, two interceptions and 10 pass breakups last year.  He is joined by redshirt sophomore cornerback Jacoby Glenn, who picked off two passes and broke up 15.  Safety Brandon Alexander and cornerback Jordan Ozerities also return.  Alexander picked off three passes in 2013, while Ozerities picked off one.

UCF is also strong in the kicking game. Kicker Shawn Moffitt, a Lou Groza Award candidate, connected on 21-of-23 attempts, with a long of 50 yards.  Ray Guy Award candidate Caleb Houston averaged 42.2 yards per punt.

Penn State is 2-1 all-time against the Golden Knights and will look to bounce back from last year's 34-31 setback at Beaver Stadium.

What George O'Leary is saying about Penn State:
"Christian (Hackenberg) was really an exceptional player for a freshman. The Big Ten certainly thought so. I would expect that if he keeps improving like he did as a freshman, each game he got better and understood more about the defense, he will be a quarterback that you hear a lot about in college football."

"I think (Austin Johnson) is a really good tackle. Their two ends are back; we played against them last year. In my opinion, the bulk of their defense is the Mike linebacker, (Mike) Hull.  He's a very good player. They've always had good linebackers there. They always have good players."

"Penn State is a school with a rich football tradition for a long, long time. That hasn't disappeared and they have a lot of good players that can win games for them."


Contributions on all of the 2014 Opponent Previews provided by GoPSUsports.com Student Writer Paul Marboe.