Hackenberg more than a game manager
Most quarterbacks don’t like to be called a game manager. It’s insulting and insinuates that the only thing the guy can do is take the snap, hand the ball off and let everyone else win the game.
An example most commonly used is Trent Dilfer on the Baltimore Ravens’ defense-oriented Super Bowl championship team in 2000.
No one who’s watched the Penn State football team this season would describe Christian Hackenberg as merely a game manager, so it was unusual to hear him describe himself that way Tuesday.
“Really, for me, this year my focus has been to be a game manager,” the freshman quarterback said on a teleconference.
Hackenberg has thrown for 2,616 yards, 16 TDs and 10 interceptions this season, and he’s second in the Big Ten averaging 238 yards passing per game. Those are hardly game manager stats.
In Hackenberg’s mind, being a game manager is his way of saying he needs to be aware of everything that’s around him, read the situation correctly and make sure the PSU offense gets into the right play. He does all of that at the line of scrimmage in Bill O’Brien’s complex offensive system.
“Especially in this offense you can do so much at the line of scrimmage,” Hackenberg said. “You have to understand not only the passing game, but the running game. You have to understand protections. I think with the greater understanding I have of that, it helps put the team in those type of situations where we can be successful.
“That’s one thing I really focused on, and I’ve looked at is what the team needs to expect out of me is understanding those types of things and getting us into those right places. So that’s sort of how I refer to it as a game manager.”
Hackenberg enters the final game of his freshman season Saturday against a very good Wisconsin team that’s favored by 24 points. With a loss, the Nittany Lions would end up 6-6, but Hackenberg’s play this year and expected development the next three years is what provides hope that PSU can compete even better in the future.
The biggest thing he’s picked up this year is to learn from his mistakes and not repeat them. Still, given the pressure he’s been under as a high-profile recruit immediately thrown into a starting role, he hasn’t made anywhere near as many mistakes as some might have expected.
“I think he’s done a good job,” O’Brien said. “I think that we could all do a better job in certain areas, and I’m sure he has some plays he wishes he could have back. But we don’t get those plays back. I think overall, when you look at being 18 years old and coming in here and playing pretty much every snap of every game, I think he’s gotten better and better at doing that.”
Hackenberg’s first game was in an NFL stadium – the Meadowlands against Syracuse – and he’s also had to play at the Horseshoe in Columbus. Saturday brings a trip to Camp Randall Stadium, another one of the tougher places to play in college football.
By now, though, Hackenberg has seen pretty much everything he’s going to see, so going to Wisconsin shouldn’t be as nerve-wracking as the first big road game at Ohio State.
“It was tough for me, I think, just trying to understand the bigness of the stage I was stepping into,” he said of his freshman season. “But I think each week guys like [center] Ty Howle and the seniors were really good guys for me to talk to. They’ve all been through it.
“Each week I was just trying to get better mentally up top and just trying to stay in as good shape as I could physically to continue to make plays for the team and help the team out. That’s been my goal. Just managing the games and help the team win to put us in situations where we can be successful.”
Hackenberg mentioned that one college quarterback he likes to watch is Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, who is a Heisman Trophy contender this year even though some critics believe he’s really a game manager for a talented Crimson Tide offense.
“I think that he runs a similar type of offense, and he does a lot of the same things at the line of scrimmage,” Hackenberg said. “He does well with managing the football game, and I think that was something that I was focusing on this year.”
SUBHD: Injury update
Cornerback Adrian Amos has a sprained foot, but O’Brien said he “seems to be moving around better and better every day.”
The Lions will need Amos on Saturday as Wisconsin has one of the Big Ten’s top receivers in Jared Abbrederis (61 catches for 916 yards).
Running back Bill Belton, who missed last week’s game against Nebraska with a shoulder injury and strep throat, is expected to return at Wisconsin.
Zach Zwinak was “banged around pretty good” carrying the ball 35 times for 149 yards against Nebraska, but O’Brien said he “looks to be OK.”
Third-string running back Von Walker suffered a concussion two weeks ago against Purdue but should be ready this week.
SUBHD: Bouncing back
The Lions suffered a tough, physical loss in their final home game and now have to go on a long road trip as heavy underdogs, during a holiday week, no less.
That doesn’t mean they won’t be geared up for the Badgers.
“We’re energized,” tight end Jesse James said. “We all have energy.”