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Penn State's Christian Hackenberg throws for 309 in comeback

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Mel Evans/Associated Press
Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg came through when it mattered against Rutgers.

Sophomore Christian Hackenberg didn't throw a TD pass Saturday night, but he nonetheless led Penn State to a 13-10 win at Rutgers in the Big Ten opener for both.

Penn State, which trailed 10-0 at halftime, is 3-0 for the first time since 2009. It was the fourth game-winning drive of Hackenberg's career in the fourth quarter or overtime.

Hackenberg threw for 309 yards -- the sixth 300-yard game of his career -- and has provided almost all the offense for the Nittany Lions in each of their games because their rushing attack is awful. Penn State managed just 68 rushing yards Saturday and has rushed for a total of 231 yards this season.

Hackenberg finished 25-of-44, but was sharp on the game-winning drive, going 3-of-4 for 84 yards. He hit Geno Lewis for gains of 53 and 23 yards, with the 23-yarder coming on a third-and-12 play and setting Penn State up for a first-and-goal from the 6. Bill Belton scored from the 5 two plays later with 1:13 left. The 23-yarder also came one play after a holding call wiped out a TD pass.

Hackenberg was sacked five times and seemingly was under pressure almost every time he dropped back.

He received help from a stout Penn State defense, which shut down Rutgers' rushing attack and forced Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova to try to win the game with his arm. That never is a good proposition for the Scarlet Knights, and Nova threw five interceptions.

Hackenberg is as talented a passer as there is in the nation, but at some point, though, the formula of his arm and a tough defense isn't going to be enough for Penn State. The Nittany Lions get woeful Massachusetts next week, then resume Big Ten play Sept. 27 against Northwestern. As mediocre as the Big Ten appears, Saturday night's game showed that at some point, Penn State must become productive on the ground. Consider: While Hackenberg threw for 309 yards against Rutgers, Washington State threw for 532 yards and scored 38 points on Rutgers. Heck, FCS opponent Howard scored 25 on the Scarlet Knights last week. The offensive line has been rebuilt, and it needs to prove it actually can block for the run sometime soon.

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

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