UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The first long strike was on Central Florida's first possession, a ball zipped through the air by quarterback Blake Bortles to wide receiver Jeff Godfrey for 28 yards. And like that, Central Florida had set up first-and-goal en route to the first touchdown it would score.
The Knights made those plays throughout Saturday night's 34-31 victory at Penn State. The Nittany Lions allowed 10 plays that went for 20 or more yards. The list goes like this: 28-yard pass to Godfrey, 58-yard Storm Johnson rush, 49-yard Godfrey rush, 21-yard William Stanback rush, 20-yard pass to J.J. Worton, 44-yard pass to Worton, 25-yard pass to Josh Reese, 22-yard Johnson rush, 36-yard pass to Reese and 26-yard pass to Breshad Perriman.
Outlining them in such a way captures the repetition and consistency of these plays. The Knights had at least one of those big gains in every quarter. They had one on nearly every drive.
"I just feel like the defensive energy wasn't there," said Penn State defensive tackle DaQuan Jones. "The team made big plays. They made a lot of big plays against us, and we have to be better."
Jones acknowledged his team's pass rush was all but nonexistent, saying the Nittany Lions were bothered by Central Florida's pace and didn't read and react properly.
Similar miscues were not a problem for Penn State in the first two games. Syracuse had four plays for 20 or more yards. Eastern Michigan didn't have any.
Defensive coordinator John Butler said Central Florida used more of a conservative offense in its first two games, against Akron and Florida International. But he said tape from last year illustrated the skill the Knights showed Saturday. He said Penn State's lack of a pass rush, Bortles' experience and decision-making and porous coverage contributed to Central Florida's big-play success.
"We knew they had some skill and that was probably some of the best skill we'll see all year, too," Butler said. "This was a big-time challenge for us."
Love from the Irish
Penn State and Central Florida open next season in Dublin, Ireland. Paraic Duffy, the director of Ireland's Gaelic Athletic Association, and Peter McKenna, Croke Park stadium director and commercial director of Ireland's Gaelic Athletic Association, visited Happy Valley Saturday for the game.
They showed off the trophy for next season's opener -- made with 4,200-year-old wood and steel from Three Rivers Stadium -- expressed their passion for American football and said they hoped for a large crowd in Dublin. Croke Park can fit more than 82,000 for Gaelic football games but will be at a capacity of 69,000 for the Penn State-Central Florida game.
"We expect to sell the stadium out," Duffy said. "That's our intention."
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05