DUBLIN -- Penn State's front four was supposed to be a strength, a mark of depth and experience compared to many of the other positions on this young roster. But they weren't supposed to be that good.
Against Central Florida, linemen Anthony Zettel, C.J. Olaniyan, Deion Barnes and Austin Johnson were nearly unstoppable in the first half, giving up 46 yards, and solid enough to hold for the 26-24 victory in the second. The group finished with 15 tackles and 51/2 tackles for loss. Central Florida had 24 rushing yards for the game.
"I think our defense from the beginning of the game until the end did a great job of stopping the run," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "Zettel and the boys."
Central Florida was missing one of its top running backs in Will Stanback and one of its top wide receivers in Rannell Hall. The Knights also brought a redshirt freshman in quarterback Pete DiNovo to start the game. Facing this in-flux group, Penn State's defensive line bothered them from the start.
On the rushing plays, linebacker Mike Hull said the linemen were often employing a technique he called "line sprints," which isn't unlike a blitz. Then when the Knights were faced with a passing down, Penn State often blitzed, rattling DiNovo.
In the second half, Central Florida replaced DiNovo with Justin Holman. (On DiNovo's last series, he was sacked by Zettel and linebacker Nyeem Wartman.)
Behind Holman, Central Florida made its run, eventually taking the lead with a little more than a minute left. Every play mattered in this second half. And Central Florida might have seized the lead and momentum even sooner were it not for Zettel.
Zettel, who played defensive end last year, grabbed the ball from Holman in the backfield and picked it up for a fumble recovery.
"Just football," Zettel said. "I just ripped it out. We both had a hold of it."
He seemed to be near the ball on every play. That was his modus operandi last year, too, when he was one of the most efficient players on the team, maximizing his tackles per snap and averaging a tackle for loss for nearly every third tackle. Three of his six tackles Saturday resulted in lost yardage.
"He's probably the craziest guy on the team," Hull said.
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05