So, it would appear from today's competition that there is a non-zero chance that Pete DiNovo is not the answer at quarterback for Central Florida. Our own Carson Ingle said a while back that Justin Holman was the correct choice under center; based on strictly today's game, he was right.
UCF had two first half possessions that started inside the Penn State 40 yard line, but only managed a total of 36 yards of offense and three points on those two drives. This included a scenario where the Knights had the ball second and goal from the one yard line and couldn't put any points on the board, not even a field goal. Call me crazy, and I know about success and statistics and all that, but I really don't think that ten minutes into a game, trailing 7-0, is the appropriate time to go for it on goal to go, specifically when you just failed twice previously.
Oh, did I mention this point-free drive came immediately on the heels of a drive where UCF had shut down the Nittany Lions? Except they got called for running into the kicker on the punt, and Christian Hackenberg completed a 44 yard pass on the very next play that kept the drive humming. The Knights held PSU to a field goal after a goal line stop, but you just can't afford mistakes like that, no matter who you are or who you are playing.
Speaking of Hackenberg, he found his groove on multiple occasions early on, stringing consecutive spot-on passes on several occasions and finishing the half 17-for-26 for 212 yards and an INT. That's not a spectacular line, but UCF only turned the interception into three points, and Pete DiNovo made Hackenberg look like Johnny Unitas.
After being awarded the job coming into today's game, DiNovo may well have been permanently replaced by Holman today. DiNovo spent the first half doing a lot of handing off, but even on the rare occasions he was asked to drop back, it wasn't pretty, as he finished the first half 3-for-8 for 18 yards. That just won't cut it.
Holman was sacked on the very last play of the first half, but the Knights still only trailed 10-3, so things were looking alright. DiNovo came back out for UCF's first second-hald drive and did less than nothing, so in came Holman for good halfway through the third quarter. He completed his first three passes, including a 50-yard beauty to Breshad Perriman to set up a goa-to-go situation that Holman converted with his own two feet.
That good will lasted all of five seconds, as UCF closed out the quarter by apparently forgetting who or where Geno Lewis was and allowing a 79 yard bomb of a touchdown, which probably prompted one of those "we're still in this, guys!" speeches on the sidelines.
Holman actually wound up completing his first six passes for a total of 130 yards and a touchdown, and with ten minutes left to play the Knights were once again only down by three, 20-17, with possession after their second interception of the game. Then Holman fumbled, only to see the Nittany Lions fumble it right back two plays later.
It looked like the shamrock helmets paid off when Holman completed an absolutely astonishing rain drop of a throw to Josh Reese, who made a catch you will be seeing on SportsCenter the rest of the season in order to convert a fourth and 10 and give UCF a first and goal they would convert to take a 24-23 lead with 1:13 remaining.
But, Hackenberg. He had a ridiculous game, completing 32-of-47 for 454 yards. His two interceptions were rough, but he made up for it with an eight yard scramble on fourth and three and then his final completion which netted 18 yards and turned Sam Ficken's 57 yard game winning attempt into a very makeable 39 yard attempt.
I would like to think that Holman separated himself from DiNovo enough to earn the start against Missouri in two weeks, or maybe a two week break is enough for DiNovo to get his act together. Either way, the Knights need their secondary to recover quickly - it's a minor miracle that the final was 26-24 given they were outgained 511-246. That isn't going to win them many games, even against weaker conference foes.