UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Everybody visibly cringed earlier this week when UCF offensive lineman Chris Martin answered a question in which I challenged his contention that Penn State is "just another game."
You could almost see the look of panic on the faces of the UCF media relations staff when Martin wouldn't back pedal from the statement and even took it a step further. There was concern from those within the UCF camp that Martin's words would wind up on a Penn State bulletin board.
"I watched them on film today, and they're just another team," Martin said in response to my question. "Nothing special. Just another team we're playing; the next team in our way. And I mean that."
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Good for Chris Martin for refusing to back down.
He said what he should have said.
And then he and the unbelievable, inconceivable Knights went on the road and did what they had to do en route to 34-31 win over Penn State that will go down as one of the most euphoric, historic victories in the 35 years UCF has been playing football.
Down goes Penn State.
Now bring on South Carolina.
Who cares if this Penn State team has been robbed of its depth by massive NCAA sanctions. It's still PENN STATE! Penn State has been around since 1855; UCF has been around since 1968. Do the math. This is a monumentally, humongously ginormous victory.
"One for the ages," emotional school president John Hitt said, standing outside a jubilant locker room. "UCF fans are going to remember this one for a long, long time."
When I asked UCF coach George O'Leary afterward if this was biggest victory in his 10 years at UCF, he responded definitively:
But why is it bigger than beating Georgia in the Liberty Bowl?
O'Leary smiled and deadpanned, "Because it happened today!"
It used to be UCF players and fans only hoped to win games like this, but now, it seems, they expect to win games like this. Martin's attitude earlier this week is proof that if you want to compete with these teams physically; you have to first conquer them psychologically. If you want to beat them in a stadium filled with nearly 100,000 fans; you first have to overcome them in the theater of your mind.
Too many times in the past, the Knights have gone into games like this wide-eyed and overly impressed with their opponent. Martin not only set the tone by saying what needed to be said this week, he then went out and backed up his words. With UCF's best offensive lineman, left tackle Torrian Wilson, not making the trip because of a knee injury, offensive line coach Brent Key had to move Martin from right tackle to left tackle and reshuffle his entire offensive line.
Even with the makeshift line, UCF still went out and compiled more than 500 yards of offense. The Knights not only out-blocked the Nittany Lions, they out-ran them, out-passed them, out-muscled them, out-hustled them and out-coached them, too.
Penn State coach Bill O'Brien used to be a graduate assistant under O'Leary at Georgia Tech, and on Saturday O'Leary once again was the old master. O'Leary and offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe kept Penn State off-balance all night by doing things like unexpectedly putting Jeff Godfrey in the wildcat and watching him take a direct snap for 49 yards to set up a score.
Meanwhile, UCF's players made huge plays like Storm Johnson's streaking, stiff-arming 58-yard TD run. Or J.J. Worton's incredible diving TD catch in the back of the endzone. Or Blake Bortles looking more and more like an NFL quarterback by completing 20-of-27 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns.
Penn State was the perfect measuring stick to see just how far Bortles and UCF have come in a year. Last season at this time, UCF went on the road in front of 100,000 fans and played Ohio State — a game in which Bortles tossed three interceptions and cost the Knights any chance of upsetting the undefeated Buckeyes.
"We were a little overwhelmed when we went to Ohio State last year," Bortles said. "We've grown up since then."
It seems Chris Martin was right all along.
Penn State is nothing special.
But UCF is.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BianchiWrites. Listen to his radio show every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on 740 AM.