Pinstripe Bowl notebook
NEW YORK – Christian Hackenberg started the season off with great numbers and finished with great numbers, the latter of which will help him forget about the many struggles he had in between.
Hackenberg completed 34-of-50 passes for 371 yards and four touchdowns in Penn State’s 31-30 overtime victory against Boston College. He set school records for completions and yards in a bowl game and tied the mark for TD passes.
He faced enormous criticism throughout the season as he ranked near the bottom in the country in quarterback efficiency statistics, but Hackenberg said he kept his focus.
“For me, it was every day I came in to work as hard as I could to try to become a better player,” he said.
Coach James Franklin has found himself having to defend his sophomore quarterback’s play all season, something he could not have expected after Hackenberg turned in a stellar freshman season.
“I’ve been saying since day one if we can give him time and give our receivers some time to work the routes, we can be pretty good on offense,” Franklin said.
Hackenberg, who was sacked a Big Ten-record 42 times during the regular season, had good protection and time to throw the ball Saturday. That opened things up in the playbook and allowed him to take more shots downfield.
“You give the guy time, he’s got a chance to be successful and he was,” Franklin said.
Hackenberg opened the season by throwing for 454 yards in PSU’s 26-24 win over Central Florida in Ireland. He had thrown only eight TDs with 15 interceptions during the regular season, but he finished up with the four TDs and no picks Saturday.
“We all know that we have a great quarterback on this team, and it’s really just about us being able to get open,” tight end Kyle Carter said.
Receivers have big games
Geno Lewis, DaeSean Hamilton and Chris Godwin each caught seven passes and had one TD grab apiece. Godwin caught a 72-yard TD in the first quarter, Lewis caught one to pull PSU within 21-14 and Hamilton caught one to force overtime.
Lewis had a solid start to the season before tapering off. He also had a tough start to Saturday’s game as he dropped a deep pass that would have given PSU first down inside the BC 10-yard line.
“We think Geno’s got a lot of ability, we saw it earlier in the year,” Franklin said before adding, “I’m excited because there’s a lot of room for growth in his game. I’m really excited to see where he’s going to be come spring ball with the right mentality and the right work ethic.”
Dieffenbach suffers injury
Left guard Miles Dieffenbach, who missed most of the season coming back from a knee injury, appeared to suffer another knee injury in the first half and didn’t return. He had to be carted off the field.
“Losing him – his leadership, he’s a captain – was big,” Franklin said.
Derek Dowry replaced Dieffenbach on the offensive line.
CB Lucas sits out 1Q
Cornerback Jordan Lucas was held out the first quarter for violating team rules. Franklin said Lucas showed up a few minutes late after curfew because he was visiting family in New York.
It wasn’t a big deal, Franklin noted, but rules are rules and Lucas needed to be punished in some way. Grant Haley started in Lucas’ place.
Ficken doesn’t take credit
Place-kicker Sam Ficken got a lot of attention after the game for kicking the winning extra point, with some people asking him how it felt that he won the game.
Ficken quickly denied that was the case.
“All those guys are animals for 60 minutes, and I come on the field for eight to 10 plays, so for me to say I won the game in Ireland that would be (completely) false,” he said. “I did not win the game. In no sense did I win the game. My team put me in position to help them win the game.”
Lynch solid on the ground
Akeel Lynch committed to Boston College out of high school before changing his mind and choosing Penn State. He enjoyed a solid day, rushing for 75 yards on 17 carries, including a 35-yard burst to the 1 that set up a TD.
“Boston College is a great school, but I think Penn State is a better fit for me overall,” Lynch said. “I’m glad I committed.”
Playing in Yankee Stadium was awesome, Lynch said, with one caveat.
“I’m a Blue Jays fan; go Blue Jays,” he said.
News and notes
Penn State scored at least 20 points in regulation for the first time all season against a power 5 conference team. The Lions nearly pulled off an onside kick on a short popup that Troy Apke caught on the fly but was barely out of bounds. CB Grant Haley started his first game, becoming the seventh true freshman to start for the Lions this season. Penn State won the opening coin toss and, surprisingly, elected to receive the kickoff. The Lions almost always defer. RB Bill Belton started the final game of his career, over Akeel Lynch. The game was a sellout at 49,012, the largest crowd in Pinstripe Bowl history and second-biggest for a football game at Yankee Stadium. Notre Dame versus Army topped 54,251 in 2010.