Freshman wall not hit by PSU QB yet
UNIVERSITY PARK – Bill O’Brien said every true freshman hits a wall, but the ones who can climb it are the ones who can put it all aside and focus on football no matter how they feel.
One day later, his prized true freshman quarterback, Christian Hackenberg, said he has hit no such wall.
“You’re going to face adversity through the year. It’s a long season,” Hackenberg said Wednesday. “Just getting adjusted to college football is the key thing for me just to push through and help the team.”
However, it is hard to ignore the change in stats and overall efficiency the young quarterback has experienced from the beginning of the season to where he is at in mid-November.
Hackenberg once held the lead for the highest average passing yards per game in the Big Ten – a high honor for a true freshman – but has since relinquished the top spot to Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase, and he holds a slim lead of less than a yard over Michigan’s Devin Gardner and Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld.
With the recent struggles, which could possibly be attributed to a shoulder injury Hackenberg suffered on Oct. 26 at Ohio State, O’Brien said his quarterback came out after the Minnesota loss and had a great practice.
“I thought he had one of his best practices [Monday],” O’Brien said Tuesday. “Here’s a guy who’s 18 years old and I just thought that yesterday in practice there were things that started to click for him.”
While O’Brien acknowledged the tough times he and Hackenberg have been through, whether it be play calls or execution errors, he was also quick to point out the highs the two have been experienced, namely the overtime victories in Beaver Stadium over Michigan and Illinois.
“I think he made really great throws there at the end of both games,” O’Brien said. “It’s an ever-evolving process, and I think one of the things that’s great about Christian is that he’s very resilient. He’s smart, he has a tremendous work ethic and he’s 18 years old. That’s not an excuse for anything, it just is what it is.”
Hackenberg and O’Brien seemingly have a strong relationship, as the second-year coach attempts to mentor his true freshman through the highs and lows every day.
However, O’Brien has not given his young player any special treatment as he has made Hackenberg available to the media all season long, which is an unusual occurrence, and has not shied away from pointing out where he did not perform well.
Hackenberg showed his inexperience against the Golden Gophers when he fumbled the ball at the goal line at a crucial moment in the second half. Instead of putting seven points on the board and cutting into Minnesota’s lead, the Gophers came away with the ball deep in their own territory.
As quick as O’Brien was to praise Hackenberg, he was just as quick to point out his mistake.
“Christian and I talk about that [situation] all the time,” O’Brien said. “When you’re on the goal line and the center has to make a hard reach block to the left or to the right, it’s like the golden rule of quarterbacking, you always have to stay with the center a little bit longer.”
Despite his error, Hackenberg said O’Brien has been great to him and has been understanding in what the team is asking from him.
It could be difficult for a true freshman quarterback to deal with the intense nature a coach like O’Brien brings to the field, but Hackenberg said he is used to coaches like that as his high school coach, Micky Sullivan at Fork Union Military Academy, was the same way.
“I’ve been around that my whole life,” Hackenberg said. “In high school, my head coach was a lot like coach O’Brien in that sense, a lot of fire, a lot of energy, just a lot of passion for the game.”
Hackenberg also said he feels the same way because he is passionate about the game, and at times it is difficult with O’Brien, but at the end of the day, the two complement one another.
Another person on the team Hackenberg has a strong relationship with is tight end Adam Breneman.
Breneman and Hackenberg built their friendship as they were the headliners of the recruiting class of 2013 – the first to commit since the sanctions were levied.
Breneman said one of the most impressive things about Hackenberg is his ability to consistently be the same person.
“When he’s on the field playing in front of 100,000 people, he’s the same guy as when he’s off the field,” Breneman said. “He’s calm, he’s funny and I think that all goes into being a great leader.”
The fellow freshman said part of the reason Hackenberg is the leader that he is for the team is because of his poise.
“Being 18 years old and the starting quarterback at Penn State, and how he’s able to handle all the pressure he has if he makes a mistake, he just stays so poised and is a great leader for this offense,” Breneman said. “I don’t know why he would get any criticism from anyone.”