True Freshman Christian Hackenberg Impressive in First Win for PSU

True Freshman Christian Hackenberg Impressive in First Win for PSU

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.


Penn at Yale: Quakers try to keep rolling, stay atop Ivies


Penn at Yale: Quakers try to keep rolling, stay atop Ivies

Penn (3-2, 2-0) at Yale (1-4, 1-1)
Yale Bowl, New Haven, Conn.
Friday, 7 p.m., NBCSN

It’s once again time for Friday night lights for Penn, which plays its second of three nationally televised Friday matchups tonight. Here’s a look at what’s on tap:

Scouting Penn
The Quakers won their third straight game and stayed perfect in the Ivy League with an easy 35-10 victory over old friend Al Bagnoli and Columbia last week. Junior running back Tre Solomon, the Ivy League’s leading rusher, was the star of the game, rushing for a career-high 127 yards on nine carries, catching five passes for 30 yards and even throwing a 23-yard TD pass on a late trick play. 

Quarterback Alek Torgersen threw for 241 yards and three touchdowns, one going to star junior Justin Watson and two more going to sophomore Christian Pearson, who’s emerging as another dynamic explosive receiving weapon. Linebacker Colton Moskal led the best defensive effort of the season with eight tackles, 1.5 sacks and 1.5 tackles for a loss. Moskal, a Syracuse transfer, currently ranks fourth in the Ivies in tackles with nine per game.

Scouting Yale
The Bulldogs lost their first three games (including a surprising one to Cornell in their Ivy opener), snapped their slide vs. Dartmouth, and then fell back to its losing ways last week at Fordham. Yale’s defense has particularly struggled, allowing 44 points to Fordham after previously surrendering 55 points in a loss to Colgate and 63 in a loss to Lehigh. 

The Bulldogs’ scoring defense currently ranks 118 out of 122 teams in the FCS (40.4 points per game) and 117th in total defense (487.8 yards per game). But their defense does have two of the top tacklers in the Ivies in Hayden Carlson and Foyesade Oluokun. And led by the tandem of Dale Harris and Alan Lamar, Yale leads the Ivies in rushing offense, averaging 184.8 yards per game — two-tenths of a yard more than Penn.

Series history
Yale leads the overall series 47-35-1, but Penn is 18-6 in the programs’ last 24 meetings dating back to 1992. The Quakers prevailed in last year’s matchup but hasn’t won at the Yale Bowl since 2010.

Storyline to watch
The historic Yale Bowl was erected more than 100 years ago but this will be the first true night game in the history of the stadium. That will only add to the mystique for the Penn players, who beat Yale in a night game at Franklin Field last season and love Friday night games because it reminds them of their high school days. But Yale players certainly figure to be up for the unique matchup, too. 

What’s at stake?
A win would keep Penn atop the Ivies with either Princeton or Harvard, the two other unbeaten frontrunners who face off the following day. 

Alek Torgersen, Justin Watson and Tre Solomon should have a field day against Yale’s leaky defense. Penn 42, Yale 27.

Gunn's bullet points: Logan's injury, battle in the trenches and more

Gunn's bullet points: Logan's injury, battle in the trenches and more

Derrick Gunn give his take on a few keys to the Eagles-Vikings game on Sunday.

• Losing Bennie Logan (groin injury) for this game is huge. He doesn't get a lot of notoriety for the dirty work he does in the trenches, but he helps Fletcher Cox get that push up the middle.

• Keep a close eye on the matchup between Jason Kelce and Vikings DT Linval Joseph. Kelce has been overmatched by bigger, athletic guys and Joseph at 6-4, 330 pounds is one of the best in the business.

• In his first three years as an Eagle, DE Connor Barwin had 26½ sacks as an OLB, including a career-best 14½ in 2014. Through five games this season, Barwin has just one. Fatigue might be a factor. He has played more snaps than any other Eagles defensive lineman (79 percent). Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz says reducing Barwin's playing time might keep him fresher and stronger in fourth quarters.

• WR Dorial Green-Beckham was on the field for 81 percent of the Eagles' plays vs. Washington last week. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich feels DGB is ready for an expanded role.

• Darren Sproles usually wins matchups against LBs, but that might not be the case against the Vikings. Mychal Kendricks' younger brother, Eric, has been a solid playmaking LB for Minnesota and he has the speed to keep up with Sproles.

• I've said it once and I'll say it again: get Kenjon Barner more touches in the run game. Barner has the least amount of carries among the Eagles' four running backs but the best yards-per-carry average at 5.8.