Rested Hackenberg ready for bowl game
Only Christian Hackenberg knows just how much he was beaten up after getting sacked a Big Ten-record 42 times, and only Hackenberg knows just how much he’s been helped out by having three weeks to rest and prepare for Saturday’s Pinstripe Bowl against Boston College.
“It was just good for me to be able to kind of sit back and relax and get my legs back underneath me and be able to do a little rehab here and there and get everything working,” Hackenberg told reporters Monday in New York. “But rest was, I think, the biggest thing, and then being able to come back and then start practice again and get back into the flow of things.”
Hackenberg’s struggles this season have been well-documented, but repeatedly coach James Franklin has deflected criticism away from his sophomore quarterback. Franklin did so again after arriving in New York on Monday.
“I’ve tried to say this all year long: I don’t really feel like Christian has been our issue,” Franklin said. “I think there’s been times that he’d like to play at a higher level, and we’d like him to play at a higher level. But I’ve been saying since the end of spring ball that it was the development of all the guys around Christian that was going to allow him to continue to grow as a player and as a leader.
“I think he’s probably grown light years this year as a leader just because he was put in a lot of difficult situations and had to face a lot of adversity, and I think for the most part handled it extremely well.”
Hackenberg has completed just 54.4 percent of his throws for 2,606 yards, and he has far more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (8). He didn’t get much help from his offensive line, which was overwhelmed by defenses for much of the season, and opposing teams were able to hit him often.
The bowl rest, Hackenberg said, was “huge” for him.
“Not only for myself,” he said, “but I think all these young guys that were forced to play a season early in their career and play a lot, I think it was big for them to be able to get their legs underneath them. I think that’s helped the whole process.”
Hackenberg stayed committed to Penn State after the NCAA sanctions were announced in 2012, and at the time he faced the possibility of not being able to play in a bowl game until his senior season. With the final two years of the bowl ban lifted this year, he and so many others on the team are getting to enjoy the bowl experience for the first time.
“It really wasn’t an issue for me when I was considering schools and when I signed here,” Hackenberg said of the bowl ban. “But obviously it’s a great opportunity for, not only myself, but just everyone on the team. The guys that stayed, the seniors, it’s a great reward for them.
“It’s exciting. It’s a great time for the program, and we have a great opportunity here in New York.”
It’s also exciting for Hackenberg, who had never been to New York and was asked to compare it to where he’s from.
“Really, really small,” he said of hometown of Palmyra, Va., “like I pass more cows than houses going to school.”
SUBHD: No bowl win
While some members of the team were around for PSU’s last bowl game – 2011 TicketCity Bowl against Houston – Franklin pointed out an interesting note.
“Not one player in our program has won a bowl game,” he said. “I don’t have anybody in the program that can tell the young guys what it’s like to win a bowl game, what it takes and what is necessary. That’s unheard of if you think about it.”
All 128 members of the team made the trip to New York for the game, and Franklin said there have been no academic casualties as a result of the fall semester.
Now the focus is making sure the players have a good time in New York, stay focused on the task at hand with the game and not let their youthful exuberance get the best of them getting into any trouble.
“That’s the hard part,” Franklin said. “When you’re dealing with 18- to 22-year-old males, the most unpredictable group of people on the planet, that’s the hard part is teaching them to be mature enough and have the leadership to look out for one another.”
Franklin mentioned that the trip to Ireland earlier this season was beneficial in that the whole team has already had a lengthy travel experience and destination site to deal with.
SUBHD: Memorial visit
The Nittany Lions visited the 9/11 Memorial and Museum on Tuesday and paid their respects to those who lost their lives.
“It was a really unique experience to come down here,” linebacker Mike Hull told gopsusports.com. “They did a tremendous job on the memorial. Words can’t describe what it’s like to be in this area after everything that happened here.
“I remember everything about that day when I was in school and when I got picked up,” added Hull, who was in second grade at the time.
The visit hit home personally for Franklin, as a college teammate of his was killed and has his name on the memorial. He played with Martin Michael Wortley at East Stroudsburg and took a picture of his name on the memorial wall.
“Emotional morning w/the team at the @Sept11Memorial. Found the name of my former teammate. #Tribute2983 #NeverForget,” Franklin tweeted along with the picture.