Sense of accountability from QB’s teammates
STATE COLLEGE – Christian Hackenberg has been a resounding success through two games as Penn State’s true freshman starting quarterback.
He’s won both of his starts, first away from home last week in New Jersey against Syracuse. He also won his first home start with ease, 45-7, over Eastern Michigan Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium, despite a couple predictable face palms.
He’s also completed 70 percent of his passes for 589 yards, with three touchdowns and three interceptions, good for a passer efficiency rating of 153.71 that would likely end the year in the top 20 nationally should he keep the pace.
And while Hackenberg’s status as a premier quarterback recruit and Penn State coach Bill O’Brien’s pedigree from working with Tom Brady might indicate future success, the feeling that Hackenberg’s Nittany Lion teammates feel accountable for his production can’t be overlooked.
This team is sure to lose a couple this fall, and it will be human nature to rationalize it, but the Nittany Lion receivers are owning up to their end as they work with a new quarterback after two-plus years of Matt McGloin.
A good example of the budding chemistry was on display on a fourth-and-4 at the EMU 12 late in the third quarter, when Hackenberg checked off a blitz and dumped a 7-yard sideline pass to Brandon Moseby-Felder for a first-and-goal. Two plays later, a Zach Zwinak run gave the Nittany Lions a 24-7 lead, ending the game’s competitive phase.
That’s how it’s supposed to work. But going 2 for 26 on third down, which the Nittany Lions have done in two games, isn’t.
“You know, it’s a team thing. Just a team thing,” said Moseby-Felder. “We all have to do better.”
Both Penn State turnovers were on Hackenberg, though. He probably shouldn’t have tried to hit Moseby-Felder in double coverage when he was intercepted in the second quarter. And he definitely has to hold onto the ball better than on his first-quarter fumble. It came unprovoked on a drop-back and was returned for EMU’s only touchdown, and made Internet blooper packages by Saturday evening.
“It’s still a work in progress. We have to execute better, especially in the beginning,” said O’Brien. “It’s a lot of fun to coach this group, they’re a resilient football team.”
Even if Hackenberg doesn’t look the part of a college quarterback with his helmet off – one might mistake his round face for an overgrown kid who just played in the Little League World Series – he does with his helmet on, zipping fastballs toward Robinson, Moseby-Felder, and everyone else.
Some might be a little too fast, as his touch isn’t quite there yet.
“He may have missed a few throws, but we dropped balls as receivers,” said Robinson, who has surpassed 125 yards receiving in both games.
Even so, receivers coach Stan Hixson credited Hackenberg with realizing different teammates have different abilities.
“He does a good job with the receivers, and each one is different,” said Hixson. “Alex Kenney is fast, Allen, too. Some of it for us is just better route-running.”
Hackenberg was taking his share of responsibility as well, perhaps a good sign out of a true freshman who was interviewed by the media postgame for the second straight week, something defending Heisman winner Johnny Manziel hadn’t done yet this fall.
“We executed well, but I definitely feel like I missed throws and checks,” said Hackenberg. “I just came to do my job and let the offense as designed take care of itself.”
Brigandi is sports editor at The Sun-Gazette. He may be reached at email@example.com.