Penn State lost to Indiana for the first time ever on Saturday, falling by a score of 44-24 on the road in Bloomington. There should be credit given to Indiana and head coach Kevin Wilson for having a great game plan and executing it to perfection. However, this loss revealed more about Bill O’Brien’s team than it did about Wilson’s.
Here’s what we can take away from Saturday’s game.
Remember: Christian Hackenberg is a freshman.
Christian Hackenberg had his worst game as a Nittany Lion excluding the rain-soaked Kent State shutout win. The numbers may say differently, but other than a few deep balls to Allen Robinson, he never really found a sustainable rhythm on Saturday. There have been and will continue to be growing pains — as is expected with any young quarterback — but he will continue to create better chemistry with his receivers as the season progresses.
It’s important to remember that this was Hackenberg’s first true road test. Syracuse was techically considered an away game, but this was the first time he has played on another team’s campus in a stadium primarily holding another team’s fans. He will get better, and he knows it.
“You have to move on. You have to get better,” Hackenberg said. “Now it’s just on to Michigan. We have to get back to work on Monday. We have to rebound the same way that the team last year did. A lot of those guys are back and me coming in as a freshman, I’m just going to follow their lead and try to play my role in it.”
Bill O’Brien needs to chill out.
Last year, O’Brien got a lot of credit for some of the play calls that he made with Matt McGloin at the helm. This year, he needs to realize that while Christian Hackenberg has sky-high potential, he isn’t as comfortable in his offense as McGloin was. The fourth-down attempt early in the game killed a good drive. Getting out to an early lead with a Ficken field goal might have set the tone differently for the game.
Hackenberg threw 55 times today — a Penn State single game record — against a team that statistically has one of the worst rush defenses in the country. If even ten of those were called runs instead of passes, I think that the game might have had a different result. It’s incredible that a freshman quarterback set a school record for pass attempts when you’re playing such a bad rush defense. Zach Zwinak and Akeel Lynch disappeared in the second half. They should have gotten more touches.
“It starts with me,” O’Brien said. “I have to do a much better job of coaching and put these guys in a better position to make plays. We have to look at the tape tonight and tomorrow and see what we can do better as a coaching staff.”
If this continues, it might soon be time for O’Brien to hire an offensive coordinator to help bring balance and rationality to the offense.
The secondary is BAD.
Twice this season, Penn State has played a team with a great quarterback who can throw the ball, and twice this season, Penn State has lost.
This isn’t a coincidence.
Penn State’s secondary is one of the worst in recent memory. Other than Adrian Amos, there isn’t a playmaker in the group. With quarterbacks such as Devin Gardner and Braxton Miller on the schedule next, young cornerbacks Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams need to improve quickly, or the next few games against Michigan and Ohio State will have the same result as this one.
Allen Robinson is a legitimate Biletnikoff Award candidate.
Robinson had one of the best days in his career, recording a career-high 12 catches for 173 yards and two touchdowns. Robinson seems to break a new school record every week, and is moving up the list of all-time greats in Penn State history. The wideout has emerged as Hackenberg’s security blanket and seems to bust a big play every time he touches the ball.
Even the other pass-catchers recognize Robinson’s talent, as Kyle Carter pointed out after the game: “Every time he throws to him, he produces. Why not throw him the ball every time?”