ShareThis Page

Penn State QB Hackenberg exceeding expectations

Chris Adamski
| Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, 8:45 p.m.
Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg (14) eludes Illinois defensive lineman Teko Powell on his way to a 9-yard touchdown run in the second quarter Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, in University Park.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg (14) eludes Illinois defensive lineman Teko Powell on his way to a 9-yard touchdown run in the second quarter Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, in University Park.

Sure, there was the 54-yard spiral dropped neatly into the waiting hands of a sprinting Eugene Lewis during Christian Hackenberg's first college game Aug. 31.

There was the 15-yard needle-threading pass Hackenberg zipped to Kyle Carter during overtime of a win at Beaver Stadium nine Saturdays later.

Even this past week, during Penn State's most feeble offensive output of the season, Hackenberg's blue-chip arm was on display at times.

Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien particularly lauded Hackenberg's delivery on a Matt Zanellato curl route early in a fourth-quarter drive when the outcome was still in play.

But for all the highlights the 6-foot-4 quarterback with the golden arm has produced before he celebrates his 19th birthday, the rapid development of Hackenberg probably was best displayed during last week's loss to the Golden Gophers on three plays in which none resulted in a completion.

“We called a play that required a check,” O'Brien said, citing one such example.

“It required a check where he had to use the tools in his toolbox to get the defense to show a little bit, and I've had guys at other places that I've been that could never do that. He did it, so he checked the play, got us into the right play.”

That the pass fell incomplete isn't the point. The foresight of the kid who was playing high school baseball just a few months prior to have picked up enough of O'Brien's complicated NFL-style offense that he deftly audibled into the exact look is what most pleased the coach.

“I truly believe in this kid,” O'Brien said.

During the second quarter of that game, one of Hackenberg's throws that showed his maturity actually was caught by an opposing player.

On a first down from the Minnesota 33-yard line, Hackenberg lofted up a “jump ball” into the left corner of the end zone.

The Golden Gophers' Eric Murray beat receiver Brandon Felder to the ball — but that was relatively inconsequential.

Hackenberg had seen Minnesota's Hendrick Ekpe jump offsides. Countless practice reps with center Ty Howle had prepared them for such an eventuality.

Hackenberg took advantage of the “free play.”

“That's something that we've got better with,” Hackenberg said of the unspoken communication between him and Howle.

“It's more of a feel for each other. I understand when he's going to snap it — and I understand when he's not. That's just something that as you get more comfortable in the college game, understanding the personnel and the people around you.”

Later, after Hackenberg had been forced to throw to receivers other than Allen Robinson (Hackenberg said Minnesota devoted more attention to Robinson than most), the quarterback recognized the situation enough to pick his spots to “force feed” the ball to his star receiver.

Twice Saturday, Robinson drew pass-interference flags.

“It's free yards,” Hackenberg said. “I know when he's one-on-one down the sidelines, and at the end of the day, I have to execute and put the ball where I need to put the ball and give him have a chance to go up — or get the pass interference.”

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.