Big Ten: UCF Knights

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- James Franklin has experienced his share of headaches with all the logistics of holding a season opener 3,000 miles away in Ireland. But there's one new wrinkle he probably hadn't counted on.

The potential eruption of an Icelandic volcano. Seriously.

The staff probably just wanted to watch some film on UCF quarterback Pete DiNovo or wideout Rannell Hall. Now, it's keeping an eye on Bardarbunga, the name of the volcano that kind of looks like it belongs to a defensive tackle. A real eruption could lead to some potential travel issues.

"We're aware of that, and we're monitoring that situation," said Michael Hazel, Penn State's director of football operations. "That's kind of out of our area of expertise."

Sadly, this isn't the synopsis to a terrible B-movie. Iceland evacuated the largely uninhabited area around the volcano, and its meteorological office raised its threat level to orange --which is the second-highest alert.

But don't go trading in those Croke Park tickets just yet. It's still too early to say whether the volcano will really erupt. And, even then, there's no telling whether the ash will create enough of a hazard to impact flights like an eruption did in 2010.

It could wind up as absolutely nothing. But the fact we even have to discuss a volcano -- and that Penn State is monitoring it -- sure is surreal. Normally, we just have to stick to following wind, rain and snow. Maybe we should start adding volcanoes and earthquakes to our Big Ten game-day weather reports?

PSU defense disappoints in loss to UCF

September, 14, 2013
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Deion Barnes stared blankly ahead once the coaches shook hands near midfield. There was no changing the blinking lights on the scoreboard. Barnes hurriedly unbuckled his chin strap and headed to the tunnel.

The defensive end's stare told the story of the Nittany Lions' day. Barnes seemed angry, frustrated and in disbelief. Most of the fans were, too.

The Nittany Lions' defense was supposed to be the strong point of this team. The rush defense was supposed to be nearly impenetrable. (It had allowed just 1.8 yards a carry.) The secondary was supposed to be much improved. But against George O'Leary's Knights, these Nittany Lions allowed 507 yards -- including nearly 6 yards a carry.

Bill O'Brien called it a team loss, but it was clear it was the defense that disappointed.

"We knew what we had to do to stop them," defensive coordinator John Butler said between swigs of orange sports drink. "And, to be honest with you, we couldn't stop what we needed to stop."

Safety Adrian Amos didn't remove his helmet while fans swayed to the alma mater. He wasn't the only one. Neither Amos nor Barnes, staples of the interview room, stopped to chat with reporters after their first loss of the season.

Instead, Butler took center stage and tried his best to answer questions -- minutes after O'Brien tried to deflect most by reiterating that he'll watch the tape. Butler did, too, but he tried his best to explain just how PSU managed to allow 15 plays that went for 10 yards or more.

The defensive coordinator knew people would blame PSU's thud practices, in which no one is tackled to the ground, for the missed tackles. And he didn't try to dismiss that explanation, either.

"I think it's fair," Butler said. "But that's just a decision we have to make because when you only have 62 scholarship players, you've got to do your best to get what you have to the field. You don't want to take it to 57 because you're tackling in practice, and maybe two of those five players you lose are your best players.

"So I think we drill it, and I think we have to keep drilling it. And part of it's leverage and their athletes."

The defense had its chances to stop UCF and give the offense a chance at the comeback. In the final quarter, with PSU trailing by just a touchdown and with the students' deafening chants, Jordan Lucas was flagged for a pass-interference penalty on third-and-9. ("Shoot, I thought we had a stop," Lucas said.) Later on that same drive, on third-and-2, William Stanback rumbled ahead for the first down.

And then, on UCF's final drive, PSU allowed a 13-yard pass on second-and-9 to seal the game.

"Yeah, I feel like we should've won this game," defensive tackle DaQuan Jones said. "But, at the same time, we didn't. They were the better team today."

DE C.J. Olaniyan missed a critical stop in the backfield. CBs Trevor Williams and Lucas led the team with six tackles apiece. And PSU came up with no sacks and no quarterback hurries.

The problem with the defense was that there was more than just one problem. At one point, wideout-turned-cornerback Williams took the bench while safety Amos moved back to cornerback.

Blake Bortles completed nearly 75 percent of his passes, so PSU needed to do something. Still, it didn't work. Butler moved around personnel, tried different game plans, but nothing seemed to slow down UCF.

"We tried everything. That's the one thing I know I can say," Butler said. "We emptied the game plan. We tried to play man, we tried to play zone, we tried to play half-man, half-zone. They did a good job."

Christian Hackenberg and Allen Robinson showed they can hang tough in a shootout. The unit with the most question marks -- PSU's passing game -- played well.

O'Brien said he'll have more answers by Tuesday. So hopefully, for the Nittany Lions, they'll find some answers for their defense in time for the Big Ten season.

Video: UCF 34, Penn State 31

September, 14, 2013

Blake Bortles passed for three touchdowns to help UCF beat Penn State 34-31 and give the Knights their first win ever against a Big Ten school.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The projected starter was already on the sideline in street clothes.

By halftime, the next guy in line was in sweatpants.

Maybe quarterback Braxton Miller is meant to be the leading rusher for Ohio State, but with its options at running back dwindling on Saturday against Central Florida, there wasn’t any choice but to put even more work on the sophomore's shoulders. And 27 carries, 141 yards and three touchdown runs later, the Buckeyes had a 31-16 win to their credit and the focal point of the offense had a bulky ice bag tucked underneath his black track jacket as a reminder of how it was earned.

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Instant analysis: Ohio State 31, UCF 16

September, 8, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer might have a few more teaching points.

But the Ohio State coach will again have the benefit of cleaning up issues after a win.

The Buckeyes had communication issues on both offense and defense and had some problems with penalties, but they had more than enough firepower to make up for it as they beat Central Florida 31-16 on Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

It was over when: Another tipped ball found its way into the hands of an Ohio State defender early in the third quarter, giving possession and good field position to Braxton Miller. The sophomore quarterback needed only three plays to produce another rushing touchdown, his third of the game, putting the Buckeyes firmly in control with a 31-10 lead.

Game ball goes to: Miller did it all on offense again, shouldering even more of the load in the process.

With starting running back Carlos Hyde limited with a knee injury, Miller had the success of the rushing attack and the football in his hands all afternoon against a respected UCF defense.

He finished with 296 total yards and was responsible for all four touchdowns, three of them on the ground.

Stat of the game: Meyer suggested 17 carries were too many for Miller last week, but the quarterback added 10 more to that total in his second outing of the season.

Ohio State might not have had much choice with its top two running backs on the sideline in street clothes in the second half, but keeping Miller healthy could be tough if he keeps getting so much work.

How the game was won: The defense had a few breakdowns in the secondary and was pushed around on a few big rushing plays, but the Buckeyes were opportunistic again in the turnover battle.

Of the three interceptions Ohio State snagged, two supplied short fields for the offense, and Ohio State capitalized both times with touchdowns to swing the momentum in its favor and build a lead that provided some late wiggle room.

What it means: UCF looked like the toughest test on Ohio State’s nonconference slate, and it certainly didn’t roll over even after falling behind by three scores.

The Knights were physical and fundamentally sound, and provided real challenges on both sides of the ball for the Buckeyes, which revealed plenty about Urban Meyer’s team early in his first season.

The most important development, though, continues to be how perfect Miller is for the offense. Even with some bumps in the road, he bailed the Buckeyes out with another dynamic outing.