Online Now 867

O'Brien wary of 'physical' Knights

Bill O'Brien spent much of his first two news conferences of the season talking about his own team.

O'Brien believes big plays will be hard to come by against UCF's defense.

For the first time this season, the subject of Tuesday's news conference was Saturday's opponent.

O'Brien's former coaching mentor George O'Leary will lead the 2-0 Central Florida Knights into Beaver Stadium at 6 p.m. Saturday to take on the 2-0 Nittany Lions. Though quarterback Blake Bortles and the Knight offense has received much of the attention, O'Brien is concerned about a defense that's given up just seven points -- albeit against some soft competition -- through two games.

"They're very physical, well-coached," O'Brien said. "The type of defense they play doesn't really lend itself to giving up explosive plays. This is a very difficult defense to go against and you can see that every snap on the tape."

The Knights have allowed only 258 yards passing and 165 yards rushing in their first two games, limiting the kid of big-gainers that the Nittany Lions used to pull away from Syracuse and Eastern Michigan in the second halves of their first two games. O'Brien looks at UCF on tape and sees a team that he says is physical at all positions, not just those near the line of scrimmage.

"Our players better be ready to show up for a physical football game," he said. "This won't be a game for the faint of heart. That's a coach O'Leary trademark. "

Penn State has averaged 463.5 yards of offense through its first two games but is just 2-of-26 on third downs. O'Brien acknowledged the need for improvement in that area by the offense but also the need to eliminate some of the early-down penalties and other mistakes that have put the Nittany Lions in some bad third-down spots.

"We've got to get off to a better start on first down," O'Brien said. "Once we get on third down we've got to execute better. There were plays to be made there. It'll get better. In my opinion it will improve. It needs to."

O'Brien said he feels it's important for all three of his running backs -- Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch -- to see game work each week, and he once again answered plenty of questions about, and ladled out plenty of praise to, freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg.

The biggest critiques of the offense by fans and media to date have centered around the offensive line. O'Brien gave his big fellas mixed reviews on Tuesday.

"I think certain individuals up front have played really well. Overall we need to play more consistent up front," he said. "Mac (McWhorter) feels the same way. I don't think we've played poorly but I know we can play better. Our guys understand that. They know they can play better and we expect them to."

O'Brien believes minimizing mistakes will be one of the keys against a veteran Central Florida team that has yet to turn the ball over and been flagged only six times in two games.

"If we go in there and turn it over and commit penalties, we're going to have a long night," he said.

Notes: O'Brien said linebackers Mike Hull and Ben Kline, who missed the Eastern Michigan game with injuries, would both play this week. Safety Ryan Keiser is questionable after suffering an unspecified injury against the Eagles. … O'Brien said Belton had "a little issue" while giving the injury report and said the running back would be probable for Saturday's game and would return to practice Wednesday.

Already have an account? Sign In