'Back to the drawing board' at Penn State

UCF wide receiver Josh Reese (19) scores past a diving Penn St linebacker Glenn Carson (40) during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
UCF wide receiver Josh Reese (19) scores past a diving Penn St linebacker Glenn Carson (40) during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) (AP)
Posted: September 17, 2013

Bill O'Brien and his Penn State coaching staff hunkered down Sunday at the Lasch Football Building watching game tape and reliving the nightmarish evening at Beaver Stadium, where they saw Central Florida have its way with the proud defense of the Nittany Lions.

But O'Brien made it clear after Saturday night's 34-31 loss to the Knights that he and his coaches were going to do everything possible to clean things up going into next week's home game against Kent State, which marks the end of Penn State's nonconference schedule.

"Both sides of the ball need to improve, special teams need to improve," O'Brien said. "Nobody's going anywhere. We're just going to go back to the drawing board and figure out what we can do better and coach these guys better and get them to play better."

O'Brien told his players, "We're with you, you're with us, through thick and thin. Everybody look in the mirror and see what we can do better tomorrow."

It's rare for an opponent to roll up big plays the way UCF (3-0) did against the Nittany Lions. The Knights gained 20 yards or more 10 times, the longest play being a 58-yard touchdown run by Storm Johnson in the second quarter.

Penn State (2-1) had allowed 443 yards in its first two games combined. The Knights amassed 441 yards through three quarters Saturday night, averaging just over 10 yards per play at that point.

"UCF is a great team," safety Malcolm Willis said. "They have a lot of good playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. They made the majority of the big plays. We've got to buckle down this week and get ready for Kent State."

The Golden Flashes (1-2) were crushed, 45-13, on Saturday night at No. 8 Louisiana State, gaining just 248 yards of total offense to 571 for the Tigers. They rank in the lower portion of the Football Bowl Subdivision statistics in total offense (303.7 yards, 113th) and total defense (456.3 yards, 102d).

But the concern for Penn State this week is to iron out the problems it had against UCF, not only on defense but on offense, where the team continues to struggle to convert third downs. The Lions went 2 for 8 Saturday night and moved up to next-to-last among the nation's 123 FBS teams, leading only Miami of Ohio.

Defensive coordinator John Butler could have been speaking for all coaches when asked if the coaches were concerned about shattered confidence among the players.

"There's no concern," Butler said. "If there's one thing that people around here should know about our players, it's that they've been through a lot worse than losing to Central Florida. Their confidence is going to be shaken, like it always is, in a loss.

"But come back Monday, just as Coach O'B said, put our nose to the grindstone, correct what we've got to correct, and move forward."


Contact Joe Juliano at jjuliano@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @JoeJulesInq.

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