STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania (Ticker) -- No. 23 Penn State avoided losing a third straight season opener but was unimpressive in a 27-24 win over Central Florida.
Zack Mills passed for 194 yards and two touchdowns and Larry Johnson rushed for 92 yards as Penn State improved to 30-7 in season openers under coach Joe Paterno.
Penn State (1-0) benefitted from good field position in the third quarter as it opened a 27-9 lead and then recovered two onside kicks in the fourth to avoid the upset.
It was the 328th career win for Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who moved four ahead of Florida State coach Bobby Bowden for No. 1 on the all-time list among Division I-A teams. Florida State is playing Virginia on Saturday.
The Nittany Lions, coming off consecutive losing seasons, started 0-4 last year for the first time in school history.
Mills completed 13-of-20 passes and gets a week of rest before facing a much tougher opponent in No. 8 Nebraska on September 14.
"I thought Zac did well," Paterno said. "Zack has been banged up a little bit. He's got a sore arm from throwing but I thought he did well. He made some big-time throws and handled the option well. He kept that baby until the last minute and then got it out there."
Ryan Schneider completed 32-of-46 passes for 345 yards with a touchdown and an interception for Central Florida (0-1), which was playing Penn State for the first time.
Schneider efficiently directed two fourth-quarter drives, the second one ending with a six-yard pass to Tavaris Capers that pulled the Golden Knights within 27-24 with 24 seconds remaining.
But hope for an upset ended when Bryant Johnson recovered the ensuing onside kick.
"Sure it does," answered Paterno when asked if allowing the last touchdown upset him. "It bothers me that we didn't have anyone that went in there and grabbed one of those passes. There was a couple of passes and we are standing around and watching the guy catch it."
Matt Prater kicked three field goals for Central Florida, which also had one blocked early in the fourth quarter. Prater kicked a 53-yard field goal to cut Penn State's lead to 10-9 with 69 seconds remaining in the first half. It was a career high for Prater and two yards short of the school record set by Ed O'Brien in 1985.
The Nittany Lions failed to capitalize on a 53-yard kickoff return by Larry Johnson to open the second half. But Central Florida turned the ball over and Robbie Gould kicked a 34-yard field goal to give Penn State a 13-9 lead 2:54 into the third quarter.
"We have to get into a rhythm," Larry Johnson said. "We felt comfortable and had a great feeling going into the game, but didn't find that rhythm until the third quarter."
Mills threw a 21-yard pass to Tony Johnson to stretch the lead to 20-9 with 6:24 remaining in the third. After linebacker Derek Wake blocked Prater's attempted field goal, fullback Paul Jefferson had an eight-yard touchdown to push the margin to 27-9 with 7:56 to go.
Alex Haynes, who had 83 yards on 21 carries, scored from two yards out and Scnheider found Capers in the back of the end zone for a two-point conversion that drew the Golden Knights within 27-17 with 3:23 to play.
Tony Johnson recovered Central Florida's first onside kick, but three plays later Penn State was foreced to punt. The Golden Knights went 80 yards in eight plays on their final drive.
Central Florida, playing its first game as a member of the Mid-American Conference, was not intimidated by a crowd of over 105,000 as it drove down the field on the first possession of the game and grabbed the lead on a 26-yard field goal by Prater just under six minutes into the contest.
Penn State answered on its first possession as Mills threw a shovel pass to Larry Johnson for a 21-yard score. Gould kicked a 23-yard field goal to make it 10-3 with 63 seconds left in the opening quarter.
"During the first half I was a little nervous," Mills said. "As a team, we didn't have the ball much which didn't help. But once we got ourselves in control, we got our first-game jitters out of the way."
Prater kicked a 32-yard field goal 5:31 into the second.
Doug Gabriel caught 11 passes for 153 yards for Central Florida.