Hackenberg helps lead PSU to opening win

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Some of his teammates made bigger plays, helping Penn State win the game, but because the quarterback is sports royalty in this country, Saturday will forever be known primarily as Christian Hackenberg’s college debut.

And what a debut it was for the prized freshman, undoubtedly the Nittany Lions’ quarterback of the future, even though it wasn’t revealed that he’s the quarterback of the present until Friday.

Hackenberg threw for 278 yards, completing 22-of-31 passes with two touchdowns, to lead Penn State to a 23-17 win over Syracuse at MetLife Stadium. The day wasn’t all great for him or his team – he threw two interceptions and the Lions suffered some key injuries – but the win was all that mattered.

“It was a great team win, and it helps us moving on with the season,” Hackenberg said after the game.

Now, for some historical perspective, the mere fact that Hackenberg talked to the media after the game was borderline stunning. He is believed to be the first true PSU freshman to address the press after the season opener in many decades.

Former coach Joe Paterno rarely let true freshmen speak to the media, and if so it didn’t happen until later in the season (such as with receiver Derrick Williams in 2005). The fact that current coach Bill O’Brien allowed his young quarterback to be interviewed shows just how important he is to the present and future of the program.

“He’s a young guy, he’s only 18, he’s got a tremendous future,” O’Brien said.

Then the coach made sure to keep the young man grounded.

“But we’re not ready to waltz him into the College Football Hall of Fame, certainly [not] the NFL Hall of Fame,” O’Brien added.

Hackenberg, one of the top-rated quarterback recruits in the country, stayed loyal to his commitment to Penn State despite the NCAA sanctions.

He admitted he was a little nervous before his first snap Saturday, but that quickly went away.

“As I started getting completions, I felt more comfortable,” he said. “Once the game starts, it’s just football.”

O’Brien did not name a starting quarterback for the game, but ESPN broke the news Friday that Hackenberg was the choice over sophomore Tyler Ferguson. O’Brien wasn’t happy the news got out and made that known when he was addressing why star receiver Allen Robinson was suspended for the first half of Saturday’s game.

“The decision not to play Allen in the first half is between me and Allen,” O’Brien said. “I’m sure all the beat reporters will try to beat that out of our players somehow, like you did the starting quarterback job.”

Hackenberg’s highlight came on a 54-yard TD pass to Geno Lewis in the fourth quarter that gave his team a 23-10 lead.

“He’s a confident kid, he knows what he’s doing,” tight end Jesse James said. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”

Hackenberg has assumed control of the Penn State offense quickly since arriving on campus in June, and Saturday was just the beginning of what the Lions hope will be a brilliant career for him.

“It’s just hard work,” Hackenberg said of his early success. “A lot of credit to the other guys on the team. They really helped me out through the whole process.”