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September 20, 2013

O'Leary has UCF pointed in right direction

George O'Leary celebrated one of the biggest wins in UCF's history last weekend by watching hours of video in his office.

And that was heading into a bye week.

After opening the season with easy victories over Akron (38-7) and FIU (38-0), UCF journeyed to Happy Valley and knocked off Penn State, 34-31, in front of almost 93,000 fans at Beaver Stadium.

The undefeated Golden Knights (3-0) will be looking to outdo another team from a major BCS conference when they host No. 12 South Carolina on Sept. 28 at noon in Orlando.

Both teams have byes tomorrow.

The time off gives UCF players and coaches an additional few days to rejoice after shredding the Penn State defense for 507 total yards, 288 through the air, and converting 7-of-12 third down opportunities in the upset road victory.

"Our football team went up there with one goal, to win the game," O'Leary said earlier this week on the American Athletic Conference coaches teleconference. "I thought we played that way, especially offensively. We played very well and handled the ball extremely well with the crowd noise. We made big plays when we had to make them."

Underrated UCF quarterback Blake Bortles was 20-of-27 passing for 288 yards and three touchdowns, guiding the Golden Knights offense on three touchdown drives of 82 yards or longer. Storm Johnson ran for 117 yards on 17 carries, including a 58-yard TD gallop early in the second quarter that gave the Golden Knights the lead for good.

UCF opened the contest with an impressive 13-play, 89-yard TD march, and never trailed thereafter, opening up a 28-10 lead midway through the third quarter.

"I thought Blake Bortles played extremely well as far as making the right decisions and the offensive line did a great job against a very formidable Penn State defensive front," said O'Leary, head coach at Georgia Tech from 1994-2001.

O'Leary's gift to his team following the heralded victory was three days off. UCF returned to the practice fields on Thursday to begin preparations for next Saturday afternoon's clash with the Gamecocks.

The UCF defense allowed 455 yards of total offense to Penn State, which completed 21-of-29 passes, averaging 12.5 yards per completion, and rushed for 193 yards.

"Defensively, I think we got caught up too much in some of the moment of the game instead of doing what they were supposed to be doing," O'Leary said.

UCF must keep its emotions in check when it squares off with the Gamecocks at high noon at Bright House Networks Stadium (45,323) on the outskirts of the entertainment capital of the world.

Specific TV plans should be announced on Monday. At the moment, the non-conference battle will be shown on ABC, ESPN or ESPNU.

"There's going to be a lot of excitement and it will be great for our fan base," O'Leary said. "South Carolina is a great football team. They have an awful lot of good athletes out there and, obviously, they're very well coached. It will be a good matchup. We have to play extremely well."

The Gamecocks last faced UCF in 2005, hanging on in the second half for a 24-15 victory in Steve Spurrier's highly anticipated debut as USC coach. O'Leary assumed command of the UCF program in 2004 and went 0-11 in his first season, but has steadily built the UCF program into one with Sunshine State clout over the past decade, reaching historical heights with three 10-win seasons since 2007.

Spurrier senses UCF, best known as the place where former NFL quarterback Daunte Culpepper played his college football, has gained newfound confidence with the victory at Penn State.

"They're a good team, no question, and they firmly believe that they're going to beat us down there," Spurrier said Thursday, "They firmly believed when they went to Penn State that they would beat those guys, and they did. They're confident they're going to beat us, too. It's going to be a tough game. That's just the way it is."

Spurrier shrugged off talk that playing in Orlando could boost USC's recruiting efforts in the state of Florida.

"It's a good tough matchup in Orlando," Spurrier said. "If it helps in recruiting, fine. But if we get beat, it's going to hurt recruiting. It's a game we'll be ready to play and we'll give them our best shot."

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