UCF and Penn State both head into week three undefeated. The teams have enjoyed success due to solid play at quarterback against some favorable match-ups. Saturday night will be a different story. The game will be a good litmus test for both teams’ quarterbacks to see if they are the real deal or have just benefited from soft schedules so far.
Christian Hackenberg became only the second freshman to start a Penn State opener since 1910, when the Lions played against Syracuse at Met Life Stadium in the Meadowlands. Penn State won the game thanks to a solid performance from Hackenberg. He threw for 278 yards and two touchdowns. He was not perfect and threw two interceptions but he did make enough plays when it counted.
Against Eastern Michigan, Hackenberg completed 70% of his passes and threw for over 300 yards and a touchdown. Penn State rushed more than they aired it out on their way to blow out the Eagles 45-7.
The young Virginia-native became a fan-favorite coming out of high school after he stayed true to his commitment to Penn State, despite all the ugliness surrounding the Jerry Sandusky scandal. After a 2-0 start, his popularity has grown even more.
He has led the Nittany Lions to two convincing wins against teams that are not what you would consider top-tier. This week he will be playing against a stout UCF defense that has been very impressive. The Knights defense ranks 6th in the country in yards allowed (211.5 per game) and has only given up 7 points in two games. The unit is the most athletic and physical defense that Penn State has faced in this young season. This will be a great gauge to see if Hackenberg is ready to make some immediate noise or if he still needs some time to develop before he is ready to handle better than mediocre teams.
Blake Bortles has a bit more experience than his counterpart. Bortles has proven he is good over a longer stretch of time, his play is starting to garner him some serious NFL draft buzz and has earned him a pretty sweet Twitter hashtag (#BortlesKombat). Bortles is the undisputed leader of the team but has yet to earn that signature win.
Blake torched Akron in the season opener, where he became the first UCF QB to throw for over 300 yards since 2009. Against FIU, he did not put up the big numbers like he did against the Zips but the Knights did not need him to. Bortles and the rest of UCF were in control for the large majority of the game.
In Hapy Valley on Saturday, the Knights will need Bortles to be more of a game-changer rather than a game-manager like he was against FIU. Bortles will face a defense that has allowed only 221.5 ypg, ranking them 9th in the country, and has allowed only three scoring drives in two games. He will be in, possibly, the most hostile environment he has ever faced. It will be his first chance of the season to get some national attention and really improve his draft stock.
Coaches George O’Leary and Bill O’Brien were on the same coaching staff at Georgia Tech years ago. On Saturday they will meet again as foes. They have different teams to worry about now but both will soon get an answer to the same question: just how good is their starting QB?