Best start in 25 years
Off to one of their best seasons in a quarter of a century, the Knights are facing possibly the best team they’ve played in just as long. Two Saturdays from now the Knights will host the biggest team to enter the Bright House since Texas arrived during the stadium’s inaugural game in 2007.
But until then the euphoria of an unlikely win over longtime football powerhouse Penn State still lingers after the 34-31 nail-biter Sept. 21. The Knights are 3-0 after handing Penn State its first loss of the season.
“We came to win a game and we got a great win,” Head Coach George O’Leary said at a post-game press conference.
But that game started out looking far more similar to the blowout wins of the first and second weeks than a fight to the finish. Storm Johnson caught a short pass just shy of seven minutes into the game to start off scoring in the end zone, and the Knights widened the lead to 31-17 by the end of the third quarter. The Knights would gain 507 yards in the game — one of the best offensive performances ever for the Knights.
Knights’ quarterback Blake Bortles dominated, with a strong 288-yard passing game including three touchdowns. J.J. Worton was his favorite target, with seven grabs for 101 yards.
Were it not for a disheartening 75-yard drive in just more than a minute on the field that had narrowed the scoring gap by a touchdown, the Knights may have had an even stronger lead before Penn State began turning things around.
The Nittany Lions would score three touchdowns in the final quarter and a half of the game, putting pressure on the Knights’ defense. But the Knights held the Lions, thanks to a crucial fumble forced by Terrance Plummer and recovery by Sean Maag as Penn State was nearing the UCF red zone late in the fourth quarter.
That moment was the difference-maker, O’Leary said.
Some stalled drives late in the quarter made UCF’s win not-so-certain as Penn State continued to drive downfield, scoring for a final time on a 5-yard Allen Robinson catch that made the score 34-31.
That would be the final score for the Lions, who allowed Bortles to connect with Worton for a 13-yard reception and a first down, enabling the Knights to run out the clock on three straight Storm Johnson carries. Johnson led the team in rushing for the second time in three games, gaining 117 net yards on 17 carries, including the Knights’ second touchdown of the game.
The win was a historic moment for the Knights, who had never beaten a Big Ten Conference football team in seven prior attempts. It was the first time the Knights had defeated the Lions in three meetings.
The Knights face possibly their toughest opponent in team history after a bye week, hosting No. 12 University of South Carolina (2-1) on Sept. 28. The Gamecocks lost to No. 11 Georgia 41-30 on Sept. 7.