Bill O’Brien had a difficult decision to make on his quarterbacks entering his second season as Penn State’s head football coach. With Matt McGloin graduated and off to the NFL (McGloin made the Raiders, by the way – although that may just be a sad statement about the state of the Raiders), it was down to junior-college transfer Tyler Ferguson or blue-chip recruit Christian Hackenberg. While Ferguson was probably a bit more seasoned of the two, O’Brien went with the talented true freshman.
How’s that working out? So far, so good, as the Nittany Lions were able to hold off the Orange 23-17 to kick off their 2013 campaign.
Hackenberg got off to a bit of a slow start in his first collegiate game. Playing in front of a noticeably pro-PSU crowd at the Meadowlands, Hackenberg seemed limited initially by both the speed of the game and what was perhaps a conventional game plan. He was without his best target in junior Allen Robinson for the first half as well, suspended for disciplinary reasons that are yet to be revealed. Once Robinson got on the field though, the fireworks started. The shackles came off of Hackenberg, and the offense started gaining yards in bunches.
Hackenberg connected on 22 of 31 pass attempts for 273 yards and two touchdowns, one of those coming on a 51-yard catch-and-run by Robinson, the other a picture perfect 54-yard bomb down the middle to Geno Lewis. The young QB did make some mistakes, specifically the two interceptions he hurled, one of which set up the Orange at the 1-yard line with seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter – Syracuse would cut the deficit to six there, giving them a chance to take the lead late. Otherwise, not bad for a first start.
Robinson appeared to be a big reason for the leap in Hackenberg’s performance. Although the freshman connected on his first six passes, they went for a grand total of 36 yards, and his first two drives stalled. Ferguson briefly got in the game, but was sacked and fumbled, which was the end of that. Hackenberg still had trouble maintaining consistent drives, and Penn State went into the locker room with just six points.
Enter Robinson, who caught passes of 24 yards and the 51-yard score on the opening two plays of the second half. He wound up finished with seven receptions for 133 yards in one half of football, although he did have a costly fumble. Still, the kid clearly has NFL talent.
Overall it was a promising sign for the future of Penn State, at least as far as under center is concerned. The fact that they needed 60 minutes to close out ‘Cuse is a little troubling in terms of how the team will fare this season, although with no postseason hopes in their second year of sanctions I suppose that takes some of the emphasis on wins and losses. This Hackenberg kid might be for real though, which could lead to some big seasons down the road if he continues to develop and mature. We’re looking forward to watching that.
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