It wasn’t the prettiest win ever, but Penn State will take it. Despite several miscues and a near collapse by the defense, James Franklin got his first win as the head coach of the Nittany Lions. Penn State pulled out the 26-24 victory over UCF in the Croke Park Classic in Dublin, Ireland. Even better was the fact that the much maligned Sam Ficken nailed four field goals, including the game-winner as the clock hit zero.
The first half of this game was dominated by Penn State, specifically the defense. The Knights were held to just 35 total yards before halftime. However, a switch at quarterback on the last series of the first half proved to be important for the rest of the game.
Justin Holman, who backed up Blake Bortles last season, came in and gave the Penn State defense fits. He showed mobility and a strong arm and quickly led the Knights to a touchdown, highlighted by a 50-yard pass to set it up. He was great on UCF’s final drive of the game, completing three passes and scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a quarterback draw.
He finished the game with 204 passing yards and a touchdown. He also added two rushing touchdowns.
The Nittany Lions struggled a bit in the second half, committing two turnovers. The first was a bad throw by Christian Hackenberg into a crowd that resulted in an interception. The second was a fumble by freshman wide receiver Chris Godwin. The defense allowed the Knights to make the game close by scoring two touchdowns.
A dominating performance quickly turned to a game that went down to the end. Penn State went up by six with just over three minutes remaining on Ficken’s third field goal of the day. Earlier in that drive, Hackenberg hit Geno Lewis, who made an incredible catch, for 41 yards to get into UCF territory, but the Nittany Lions were unable to punch it in.
After giving up the go-ahead score to the Knights, Hackenberg and the offense got the ball with just over a minute left. The super sophomore completed four passes on the final drive and converted a crucial fourth-and-three by running for it. His final pass of the game hit Geno Lewis for 18 yards, setting up Ficken’s game-winning 36-yarder.
The Nittany Lions outgained the Knights 511 to 246. Hackenberg threw for a career-high and school record 454 yards and a touchdown. Lewis caught eight balls for 173 yards and a touchdown. DaeSean Hamilton, playing in his first game, caught a game-high 11 passes for 165 yards.
This was a dramatic way to start the James Franklin Era at Penn State. Clearly the team has a lot to work on heading into next week, but a win is a win.
Penn State plays its first home game in Beaver Stadium next week against the Akron Zips. Kickoff is set for Noon.