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.

>> BOX SCORE [ESPN]

No. 1 Villanova vs. La Salle: Wildcats look to stay hot vs. Explorers at Palestra

No. 1 Villanova vs. La Salle: Wildcats look to stay hot vs. Explorers at Palestra

No. 1 Villanova (8-0) at La Salle (4-2) 
7 p.m. at The Palestra

Villanova, now the top-ranked team in the country, travels to the Palestra on Tuesday night for another Big 5 game, this one against La Salle (the home team), which has won three straight games.

Let's get you ready for the matchup:

Last time out
La Salle beat Bucknell, 83-73, on Saturday.

Villanova won, 88-47, over Saint Joseph’s.

Scouting report
Villanova, which is undefeated, has become the No. 1 team in the country after beating St. Joe’s handily on Saturday. Josh Hart, who had a triple-double in the game, has been a major reason for the Wildcats' success so far this season. The senior is averaging 17.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. 

La Salle has won three games in a row after losing at the buzzer to Texas Southern on its homecoming game. Against Bucknell, Jordan Price had 20 points, while B.J. Johnson had 22. Johnson, a transfer from Syracuse, leads the team in scoring with 18.7 points per game.

What it means
Villanova is the best in the country right now, and it moved up to No. 1 after Kentucky lost to UCLA. Another win will give the Wildcats good momentum heading into their Saturday matchup with No. 23 Notre Dame. A victory would also extend Villanova's all-time record Big 5 winning streak to 16 games.

La Salle head coach John Gianinni could potentially be on the hot seat if the Explorers suffer another poor season. A win against the defending national champions would alleviate any chatter about his status.

Series history
This is the first and only time the Big 5 rivals will meet this season. Jay Wright is 13-2 all-time against the Explorers, and his group blew them out last season, 76-47.

What’s next?
La Salle will head to Miami for the Hoophall Miami Invitational to take on Georgetown this Saturday at the American Airlines Arena.

Villanova travels to Newark, New Jersey, to meet No. 23 Notre Dame at the Prudential Center.

Doug Pederson doesn't think 2016 struggles will ruin Carson Wentz in long term

Doug Pederson doesn't think 2016 struggles will ruin Carson Wentz in long term

In his first month in the NFL, Carson Wentz's trophy case was filling up quickly. 

He won two NFL Rookie of the Week awards to go along with being named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week in Week 3 and the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month for September. 

It's hard to believe all of that happened this year. 

Since September, the Eagles have gone 2-7 and Wentz has looked like a rookie. Sure, the Eagles have some major deficiencies on offense that haven't made his life any easier, but it's no longer possible to simply overlook the regression of the No. 2 overall pick. 

Could this tough stretch negatively affect Wentz long term?  

"I don't think it's going to affect Carson going forward," head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday. "I just don't think it's going to affect him at all, because he's really a pro's pro and he's learning how to handle adversity for the first time, probably, in his career. It's something that we get to the OTAs and we get a full offseason in and we just continue to work on it."

It's fair to say the 2016 season was probably never really about this year and making the playoffs. It's clear the more important thing is to develop Wentz into the franchise quarterback they drafted him to be. But the one thing the team probably didn't want to see was regression. It seems like that's what has happened. 

In the first four games of the season, Wentz had a passer rating over 100 three times and hasn't done it since then. Take a look at the difference in the first quarter of his season compared to the next two. 

First four games: Completion percentage of 67 percent, 7 touchdowns, 1 interception, passer rating of 103.5. 

Next eight: Completion percentage of 61 percent, 5 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, passer rating of 70.1. 

The Eagles will enter their final quarter of the season when they host Washington on Sunday. The best way to avoid any long-term issues stemming from a tough rookie season is to end on a stronger note. 

"Well, you avoid it by trying to win a football game, and you try to win as many as you can now with these last four that we've got," Pederson said. "If you're looking towards next season, you always want to go out with a bang and try to win as many as you can down the stretch."

Way back in training camp, the plan was for 2016 to be a redshirt year for Wentz. He was supposed to sit behind Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel, but Bradford was traded and the Eagles elected to start their prized quarterback from the onset. 

Wentz went from a redshirt season to being on pace to throw 603 passes, which would shatter the Eagles' record for a single season. 

"These are some of the decisions that I made back when the trade was made that if there was going to be some growing pains, these were going to be some of the pains we were going to have to go through," Pederson said. "And just him understanding and him learning and us growing together as an offense, he and I growing as coach and quarterback together, it's all part of the process."

Wentz and Pederson seemingly had a disagreement after Sunday's game, when Pederson attributed Wentz's struggles to mechanical problems, while Wentz denied that was the case. Pederson held firm to his belief that those mechanical issues can be corrected and it's probable Wentz spoke out of frustration on Sunday night. 

If Wentz is frustrated, it would be understandable. It hasn't been an easy couple of months. 

"I see him handling it well," Pederson said. "These are discussions that we will have, myself, [Eagles offensive coordinator] Frank [Reich], Carson [Wentz], as we talk to him, because we've played obviously at this level, and my experience, even in this city playing and knowing what that's all about, we can really help him. It’s our job to help him and make sure that he stays on track and stays focused and he doesn't get derailed by anything that's coming from the outside."