The Penn State Nittany Lions were able sneak past the Syracuse Orange, 23-17, to get Week 1 of the 2013 college football season started off right.
Although his performance was rather uneven, there were still plenty of promising signs from true freshman Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who looks every bit like the part of a blue-chip recruit and instant star.
At just 18 years old, he became just the third true freshman to start for the Nittany Lions since 1910. Robert Bolden was the last one to earn that honor back in 2010, but he did not pan out at all. If the first game is any indication, it appears as though Hackenburg will.
The final numbers were impressive, and Hackenberg's 278 passing yards were just two shy of the school freshman record, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Penn State freshman QB Christian Hackenberg started strong with 278 pass yards, 2 shy of the team freshman record (2001 Zack Mills)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 1, 2013
Both touchdown tosses showcased the strong right arm that Hackenberg possesses, but his two interceptions indicated that he's still very much a work in progress.
That is the case with any quarterback, though, especially one in Hackenberg's position in being handed the keys to lead the offense of such a high-profile football program.
On his first touchdown pass to top receiving target Allen Robinson, a pump fake froze the Orange secondary and Hackenberg threw a touch pass into the open void, allowing Robinson to do the rest of the work en route to a 51-yard score.
When the fourth quarter rolled around, the Penn State staff had enough confidence to allow Hackenberg to take a shot deep, and he delivered, throwing a rope to Geno Lewis for a 54-yard touchdown off of play action.
What was most impressive about that is, despite the incredible throw Hackenberg made to hit Lewis pretty much in stride, he gave the credit to his teammates.
Hackenberg pointed out that he simply threw the ball up and that Lewis made the play on it—even though it was a great deep pass.
How will Penn State finish in 2013?
Similar sentiment was expressed by Hackenberg throughout the post-game press conference. He was quick to dismiss his individual success and instead talk about how the Nittany Lions executed well enough as a team to win.
The final interception Hackenberg threw led to a touchdown for Syracuse about midway through the fourth quarter, and the Nittany Lions had to hang on at the end.
Another big red flag is that Penn State converted only one of 16 third-down opportunities. In spite of that, Hackenberg still completed 71 percent of his passes on nearly nine yards per attempt in his first action on the collegiate gridiron.
With a seemingly strong defense to support him but a lackluster running game at his disposal, look for head coach Bill O'Brien to continue trusting Hackenberg in the passing game.
As the playbook opens up further and Hackenberg gets even more acclimated to the position, look for the strapping 6'4", 220-pound prodigy to shine for the Nittany Lions in his first season.