Penn State's Freshman QB Christian Hackenberg looks to impress against Kent State

Penn State's Freshman QB Christian Hackenberg looks to impress against Kent State

For most 18-year-old Penn State students, game day in Happy Valley consists of rolling out of bed at 8:00 am, throwing on a blue and white football jersey, chugging some Gatorade, and finally heading over to the Beaver Stadium parking lots. What awaits these students is another action-packed day of tailgating, cheering, and hopefully celebrating with 100,000 other screaming fans.

For freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg, the game day routine is a bit different. Then again, he is not like most 18-year-old Penn State students. He’s 6’4” and 220 pounds. He has an absolute canon of an arm. He also happens to be the starting quarterback for the Nittany Lions. With the first day of fall marking week four of the season, the Penn State community is quickly learning that the kid can flat out play.

Despite a bitter loss last weekend to Central Florida, Penn State can roll into its week four matchup reassured by the great play of its young quarterback. The game day butterflies are beginning to fade, the matchups are becoming clearer, and the game is slowing down for Hackenberg. Through the team’s first three games, the big freshman has calmly settled into the offense throwing for an impressive 851 yards and four touchdowns at a 71 percent completion rate. Oh yeah, and three of his four touchdowns came on completions of 45 yards or longer. Not bad for a player who arrived to the team in June.

On Saturday Hackenberg will lead the Nittany Lions to face a struggling Kent State team that has gone 0-10 in Big Ten matchups over the years. Unfortunately for the Golden Flashes, that record is not likely to improve much this weekend. Oddmakers have projected Penn State to win by three touchdowns against a struggling and desperate Kent State defense. Of course Vegas odds mean nothing to Hackenberg and Nittany Nation. The team is hungry and its quarterback is ready to prove on the field that he is the real deal.

If the home team’s offense can avoid third-and-longs by staying productive on first and second down, look for the offense to roll. Head coach Bill O’Brien acknowledged that appropriate play calling should keep his guys in more manageable situations. Expect Hackenberg to connect early and often with standout receiver Allen Robinson who has already amassed 300 yards receiving so far this season.

It’s worth noting that Hackenberg has already twice received the honor of Big Ten Freshman of the Week, while Bill O’Brien believes the quarterback has only earned himself a 'B' rating through three weeks. Come Monday, don’t be surprised if the promising freshman collects a third Big Ten award and an 'A' from his coach.

Heading into next week, Penn State will have a bye before it kicks off Big Ten play against Indiana.

Kickoff today is set for 3:30 on the Big Ten Network.

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake continues to rack up the accolades.

A couple of weeks after being named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, the rising Philadelphia Union star was named to the MLS Best XI team as one of the league’s top players in 2016.

The rest of the team included:

• Forwards Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), David Villa (New York City FC) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)
• Midfielders Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), Sacha Kljestan (Red Bulls), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas) and Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
• Defenders Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids) and Jelle Van Damme (Galaxy)

Blake’s inclusion on the Best XI is not a surprise considering he already took home top goalkeeper honors. Even though he didn’t have the best numbers in the league, he made the spectacular look ordinary in his first full season as an MLS starter.

But it is unique for the Union, who haven’t had a player make the Best XI since Sebastien Le Toux was included for his 14-goal, 11-assist effort in Philly's 2010 expansion season.

Union winger Chris Pontius, who recently won the 2016 MLS Breakout Player of the Year award, made Best XI while with D.C. United in 2012. Former Union players to be honored on the prestigious list were Bakary Soumare with Chicago in 2008 and Justin Mapp with Chicago in 2006.

Another big honor like this will likely only increase the chatter that Blake could be sold to a big team in Europe soon. But a couple of weeks ago, the Union goalkeeper insisted his only focus for 2017 is on Philadelphia.

“From a personal standpoint, I’m hoping to have an even better season than 2016,” he said at the time. “To be able to go in and be consistent and do everything I can for the Union — and maybe be the goalkeeper to get them their first [MLS] Cup.”

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

There’s a number of reasons why the Flyers have a five-game winning streak, why they’re playing better hockey, and why they own the No. 1 wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
 
Perhaps the biggest reason of all is goaltender Steve Mason, who has won four of those games, compiling a 1.71 goals against average and .945 save percentage during that span.
 
Mason was named the NHL’s first “Star of the Week” on Monday. St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones were second and third stars.
 
“The team is on a roll right now and I’m a benefactor of that,” said Mason, who needs a win Tuesday against Florida to tie his career-high streak of five set Dec. 17-30 in 2013, during his first, full season as a Flyer.
 
“There’s strong play in front of me. The team is playing a little tighter in our defensive zone of late and making the goaltender reads that much more simple. 
 
“Right now, there’s a comfort level with the guys in front of me … Winning five in a row is nice and we’d like to keep making ground in the standings.”
 
His four victories last week were tops in the NHL. Among them, he had a season-high 45 saves in a 3-2 shootout win against Boston. 
 
Like many goalies, Mason prefers action. Games such as the 3-2 overtime win at Ottawa last week when the Senators only fired 21 shots, bother him.
 
“Those games, when you are not getting a lot of shots, the ones you do get will be a high-grade scoring chance,” he said. “And when you’re sitting around a few minutes not seeing the puck and all of a sudden see a chance like that …
 
“It’s more difficult to play [those games] than the games where there is a constant workload and you’re not thinking, but just playing. For myself personally, those are the games I enjoy the most. When I see a lot of pucks.”
 
The Flyers have seen dramatic improvement over the past month in their overall defensive play, from both their defensemen in down-low coverage in the slow and with their forwards on the backcheck.
 
Mason said the team has gone through “growing pains” with trying to integrate some younger bodies to the lineup this season – Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Nick Cousins  come to mind.
 
“You have to familiar with everybody,” he said. “Have a constant lineup where guys go out  shift after shift and night after night, you know what to expect from one another. When you have that kind of confidence in guys, it makes playing easier.” 
 
Mason’s 4-2 victory at Nashville on Sunday saw him go over .500 for the first time this season with a 9-8-3 record. 
 
His GAA is coming down at 2.76 while his save percentage has risen to .904.
 
“I was aware of it obviously, just because of the way the year started,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of work to get it above the .900 level.
 
“We’re obviously going to continue to work at getting it even better. The way the team’s playing right now and the way everybody’s clicking, we’re going at a good pace right now.”