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Hackenberg shows off arm in come-from-behind win over UCF

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Steven Flynn/USA TODAY
Christian Hackenberg became the first Penn State quarterback to surpass 400 yards passing in a game on Saturday.

Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg's sophomore season got off to a rousing start Saturday in Dublin, Ireland.

Hackenberg threw for a career-high 454 yards and led the Nittany Lions on a game-winning drive to a last-play field goal in a 26-24 win over UCF.


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Hackenberg (6-foot-3, 234 pounds) is 14 pounds heavier than he was last season, when he had four 300-yard games as a true freshman. His high game was 340 yards in a 44-24 loss to Indiana.

He was 32-of-47, with one TD and two picks, against an experienced UCF secondary on Saturday. His interceptions were poorly thrown passes, but because of an ineffective Nittany Lions rushing attack -- they managed just 56 yards on 28 rushing attempts -- Hackenberg provided almost all of the offense with his arm.

UCF took a 24-23 lead with 1:13 left on a TD run by backup quarterback Justin Holman, who replaced ineffective starter Pete DiNovo in the second half. This was UCF's first game without quarterback Blake Bortles, who was the No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

But Hackenberg was unfazed. He went 4-of-6 for 55 yards and also rushed for 8 yards on a fourth-and-3 play on the ensuing game-winning drive. It was the third game-winning drive of his career in the fourth quarter or overtime, as he led the Nittany Lions to two OT wins last season.

One issue for Penn State this season was who would step up to replace Allen Robinson, who had 97 receptions last season. The Nittany Lions had two receivers with more than 100 receiving yards Saturday; redshirt freshman DaeSean Hamilton had 11 catches for 165 yards, and sophomore Geno Lewis -- who seems likely to evolve into the go-to receiver -- had seven receptions for 164 yards and a touchdown.

This was the first game for new Nittany Lions coach James Franklin, and the lack of a rushing attack has to worry him. Good news for Penn State is that UCF's defense likely will be the toughest the Nittany Lions see for a while. Penn State has Akron, Rutgers and Massachusetts in its next three games, and if the Nittany Lions struggle on the ground in each of those games, too, Franklin likely will be in a full-fledged panic mode. Then again, Hackenberg's arm was enough Saturday, and that arm looks good enough to carry the offense in most games this fall.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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