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Penn State Football: Handing Out The Grades After Penn State's Thriller Over UCF

by on August 31, 2014 7:00 AM

Saturday's contest between Penn State and the University of Central Florida was certainly a game to remember but that doesn't mean the Nittany Lions will land in State College with nothing to fix.

There were a lot of positives to take from the game as well as a few bad things that could have overshadowed an otherwise solid performance.

So for the first time of the 2014 Penn State football season, here are the grades:

Offense: B+

Considering Christian Hackenberg passed for over 400 yards this should be an easy grade to hand out. But even Hackenberg wasn't perfect, throwing two interceptions that could have been prevented. In total the offense would turn the ball over on three occasions, all of which were poorly timed. Penn State would end up with only 57 yards on the ground and the offensive line got little to no push in running situations not involving short yardage. 

At the end of the day though, Penn State scored when it had to and made the plays it had to in order to win the game. Seven different players caught a pass and Hackenberg's record-setting performance is good enough to make up for the mistakes. Scoring 26 points isn't a bad result, but mistakes took away from what could have been a better showing.

Christian Hackenberg: 32-47 for 454 yards 1 TD and 2 INTs.

Defense: B

On the one hand Penn State's defense only gave up 35 yards in the first half. But once UCF switched quarterbacks to one who was far more capable of running the offense the Nittany Lions weren't as dominating. There were some strong individual efforts. In the secondary, Jordan Lucas had three pass deflections and Adrian Amos made some timely plays. Anthony Zettel was impressive as well with three tackles for a loss while Mike Hull quietly had 11 tackles.

From a numbers perspective giving up 24 yards of rushing and 222 yards through the air is a very solid outing. The downside is that the majority of those yards came on three separate plays of 37+ yards. Penn State kept UCF doing what it wanted to do for most of the game, but when it came time to stop the big play the Nittany Lions failed to do so. In nearly every aspect the Nittany Lion defense was strong, but three plays can swing a game, and three plays against UCF opened up the door to that happening. It nearly cost Penn State the game Saturday, and it will against even better teams.

Anthony Zettel: 1 sack, 3 tackles for a loss, 1 fumble recovery and 6 tackles.

Special Teams: A-

Sam Ficken was in many ways the MVP of the game for more than just kicking the game winner. Going 4-for-4 on field goals kept Penn State in the game. The kick return unit wasn't overly impressive but appears to have potential. Penn State's kickoff unit struggled on a few occasions and Trevor Williams' diving tackle saved a touchdown. Chris Gulla's only punt netted 41 yards which is more than acceptable. Special teams could have cost Penn State on Saturday but they didn't and that game-winning kick by Ficken saved the day.

Standout Performer: Sam Ficken 4-4 from 22,24,33, and 36 yards. 

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Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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