Plenty to like about first PSU game

Looking back on Saturday and ahead to this week and beyond for the Penn State football team.

n Five things to like:

1. Christian Hackenberg put up gaudy numbers, passing for a school-record 454 yards while completing 32-of-47 passes (more on those total attempts later). It’s not just the numbers, either, but the way Hack attacked in a 26-24 win over Central Florida in the Croke Park Classic.

He’s already so good, so calm, so accurate and so mechanically sound throwing outside the pocket even as a college sophomore.

He’s not Johnny Manziel running around because he loves to and then flinging the ball somewhere. No, when Hackenberg scrambles, it’s because that’s the best option available, and he’s still good at going through checks with his receivers.

2. It’s impossible not to feel good for Sam Ficken after he kicked the game-winning 36-yard field goal on the final play. After everything he’s been through, the confidence he gained by making that kick – versus the confidence he would have lost had he missed – is an astronomical difference.

Ficken also went 4-for-4 on field goals, and even though were all short, being perfect on the day should be a great sign for him this season.

3. Geno Lewis (8 for 173 yards) and DaeSean Hamilton (11 for 165) were fantastic, and not just from a numbers standpoint. They ran good routes, were able to sneak free in the secondary (part of that was bad coverage by UCF) and, most importantly, they caught big passes.

That last part might seem easy, but so many young receivers drop the kind of balls Lewis and Hamilton pulled in, even when they’re wide open.

Lewis was expected to be the primary receiving target this season, but Hamilton shocked everyone by breaking PSU freshman records for catches and yards.

4. Anthony Zettel and the D-line had a great day, with Zettel racking up three tackles for loss and the line helping hold UCF to 24 yards rushing.

The goal-line stand at the 1 in the first quarter turned out to be huge, and it was anchored by the line, along with linebacker Mike Hull making big plays.

5. Cornerback Jordan Lucas made every play in his area, breaking up three passes. He looks like he has made big strides after putting together a solid season in 2013.

BONUS thing to like: For fans who made the trip to Ireland, you probably heard all about Gaelic football and the huge All-Ireland semifinal match that took place Sunday between Dublin and Donegal. Well, Donegal (the yellow jerseys you saw walking around town) won the game.

Gaelic football is an awesome game, much more entertaining than soccer. As colleague Nate Bauer from BlueWhite Illustrated tweeted, “Gaelic football is basically soccer, handball, field goal kicking, and fighting?”

n Five things not to like:

1. The offensive line did not run block well, and the Lions rushed for only 57 yards. It’s a good thing it’s early and the line has time to jell because that kind of performance won’t cut it all season.

2. The Lions cannot have Hackenberg throw 47 times week in and week out and expect to keep him healthy all season. He had to keep throwing because the line couldn’t run block, but the reason James Franklin has said he needs to stay committed to the run is because he knows Hackenberg can’t be subjected to that many potential hits.

3. Lucas played well, but the two players at the other cornerback spot – Trevor Williams and Da’Quan Davis – really struggled. Competition for that job will have to remain open.

4. The Lions played a sloppy game, committing nine penalties for 90 yards. Look for that number to improve this week.

5. Hackenberg had a huge day, but he made big mistakes on both of his interceptions. The first, he should have recognized the defender was right there, and the second he should have thrown it away rather than trying to force something out of nothing.

SUBHD: Looking ahead

n This week’s opponent, Akron, crushed Howard in its opener, 41-0. The Zips, who are coached by Terry Bowden, threw for 396 yards.

n Penn State is an 18-point favorite over Akron.

n Week-three opponent Rutgers pulled off a good win in its opener at Washington State, 41-38. The Scarlet Knights looked strong offensively, but their defense was terrible as Connor Halliday torched them for 532 yards passing.

Maybe Hack can go for 533 against them. Just kidding (sort of).

Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.