George O'Leary, Central Florida prepare for Penn State

Posted: August 27, 2014

George O'Leary has been around long enough not to get too worried when planning for an opponent with a new head coach, and thus no filmed record of the type of offense or defense the rival coach plans to run with that team.

Central Florida's 68-year-old head coach is getting the Knights, who are coming off a 12-1 season and a Fiesta Bowl victory over Baylor, ready for Saturday's season opener against Penn State and new coach James Franklin in Dublin, Ireland.

There's no way of predicting what Franklin might do on offense with a quarterback as gifted as Christian Hackenberg. But O'Leary knows that Franklin coached for three years at Vanderbilt with much of the same staff as he has at Penn State, and he knows what Hackenberg can do based on his performance last year in the Knights' 34-31 win over the Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium.

"We've always worried about ourselves getting better fundamentally as far as blocking and tackling and being able to get off blocks and basically understand what your responsibilities are," O'Leary said Monday in a conference call with the media.

"Other than that, we basically look at what Penn State did last year, their personnel and what they have coming back and what some of their other coaches have done in prior programs they've been in. So it's been a smorgasbord of a lot of different things we've worked against."

O'Leary was impressed last year with Hackenberg, who completed 21 of 28 passes for 262 yards and a touchdown against the Knights in only the third game of his career.

"He's a big guy that is smart and can throw the ball, that can read defenses, that knows where to go with the ball," he said. "He has that stature back [in the pocket] where he can take a hit and deliver the ball. I think the things he did as a freshman were outstanding and I think if he continues to do what he did last year, he's going to be a future great player at quarterback in college."

The Knights lost quarterback Blake Bortles, the No. 3 overall pick in the NFL draft in May. Redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo won a four-man battle in training camp and will start behind center on Saturday.

"Pete did the best job of taking the play from the sideline to the huddle to the execution end and really being productive back there and limiting the mistakes," O'Leary said. "That was the reason he was given the nod."

UCF retains enough veterans to make another run for an American Athletic Conference title. Their top three returning receivers - seniors J.J. Worton and Rannell Hall and junior Breshad Perrimen - combined last year for 143 receptions, 2,418 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Defensively, the Knights return nine starters, including linebacker Terrance Plummer, the defensive MVP of the Fiesta Bowl, and strong safety Clayton Geathers, the team's top active career tackler.

"They've got a lot of guys that have played in big spots and big venues and they've been successful doing it," Penn State offensive coordinator John Donovan said Monday. "Because they have experience, they probably have a good amount of confidence. They're fundamentally sound and they're talented. We have our work cut out for us."


jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq

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