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Syracuse loses season opener to Penn St., 23-17

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Drew Allen’s first start for Syracuse began well, completing his first five passes and showing off the strong arm that had Orange fans excited about the transfer for Oklahoma.

From there, he was spotty, throwing a couple of interceptions and finishing 16 of 37 for 189 yards as the Orange lost 23-17 to Penn State on Saturday.

Allen hasn’t made Syracuse fans forget Ryan Nassib yet, but his new coach saw promise.

“I liked his moxie, I liked his energy and I liked his fight,” first-year coach Scott Shafer said. “He made a couple of good throws, took some shots.”

Christian Hackenberg threw two touchdown passes in his first college game for Penn State. He went 22 for 31 for 278 yards with two interceptions and became the second freshman to start a Penn State opener at quarterback since 1910.

The 18-year-old blue chip recruit hit Eugene Lewis with a deep pass down the middle and the receiver reached into the end zone for a 54-yard score that made it 23-10 with 11:39 left in the fourth quarter.

“I did the easy part. I just threw the ball up,” Hackenberg said.

Penn State coach Bill O’Brien agreed, crediting Lewis for the route, fellow receiver Allen Robinson for drawing the defense and running back Zach Zwinak for picking up a blitz.

“On that play (Hackenberg) did the least amount of work,” O’Brien said. “He made the throw and that’s why he’s on scholarship

Hackenberg also hooked up with Allen Robinson on a 51-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

Robinson, Penn State’s leading receiver last season, unexpectedly did not play in the first half, but finished with seven catches for 133 yards. O’Brien declined to say why Robinson sat.

Hackenberg was far from perfect. His costliest mistake came in Penn State territory in the fourth quarter when he threw an interception to defensive lineman Robert Welsh, who returned the ball to the 1. On the next play, Jerome Smith plunged into the end zone to make it 23-17 with 6:58 left in the fourth.

Syracuse’s last shot ended when Allen went deep down the sideline, but was picked off by Trevor Williams at the Penn State 25 with 1:53 left and not timeouts left for the Orange.

“It makes me sick to lose, but I had a blast,” said Shafer, who was promoted from defensive coordinator after Doug Marrone left for the NFL.

Both coaches played it coy with their starting quarterbacks, not revealing their decisions until it was time to play.

O’Brien went with the highly touted Hackenberg over junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson for all but one series. Shafer chose Allen over sophomore Terrell Hunt to replace Ryan Nassib, who was drafted by the Giants.

“It was tough,” Shafer said. “Both Drew and Terrell are great football players and have a great pride in being a team player. I just thought Drew was ready.”

Robinson was unexpectedly on the bench for the first half and there was no official word why. When he finally got on the field, Hackenberg kept him busy. He caught the freshman’s first two passes of the second half, including the long touchdown that made it 13-3 Penn State.

Sam Ficken kicked three field goals, including a career-best 46-yarder early in the fourth quarter that made it 16-10.

Allen responded after Penn State’s first touchdown with a perfectly thrown deep ball to Jeremiah Kobena that went for 55 yards. On the next play, Smith bounced outside and ran for a 10-yard score to make it 13-10.

“He’s a sheriff,” Smith said of Allen.” Everyone listened to him.”

The crowd of 61,202 at MetLife Stadium, a fairly even mix of Penn State and Syracuse fans for what was officially an Orange home game, finally had a reason to make some noise after a sleepy first half.

“I went out there and I was comfortable,” said Allen, the former backup at Oklahoma and top high school prospect. “I was clam. To be honest, I had a lot of fun.”

Syracuse didn’t provide much support for Allen in the running game with Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley combining for 97 yards and 28 carries.

“Ultimately, we wanted to come out with a win,” said Allen, the senior from San Antonio, Texas, whose family was at the game. “Luckily it’s Game 1 and we have 11 more to go guaranteed and we are going to learn from today.”

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