Through Three Games, Hackenberg Has Outperformed Most Penn State Greats

Penn State football may be known as “Linebacker U,” but the university has produced its fair share of outstanding quarterbacks as well. Is true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg the next in the Nittany Lions’ tradition of passing greats? We compare his performances to the first three starts of other notable Penn State quarterbacks.

Through three games, Hackenberg has thrown for 851 yards, four touchdowns, and three interceptions. He’s completed over 70 percent of his passes — a remarkable feat for a true freshman. Granted, the defensive competition hasn’t been as stiff as what he’ll face during conference play, but Hackenberg’s performances have been good enough for him to win Big Ten Freshman of the Week twice in the last three weeks.

For comparison, here’s how other top Penn State quarterbacks started their careers:

Matt McGloin: The most recent Penn State quarterback to make an NFL roster, McGloin ultimately beat out Robert Bolden in a much publicized and drawn-out battle for the starting quarterback position. In his first three starts, McGloin threw for 724 yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions. McGloin’s competition in these three games consisted of Michigan, Ohio State, and Indiana — a notable step up from the Syracuse, Eastern Michigan, and Central Florida defenses that Hackenberg has faced thus far.

Daryll Clark: Another recent star quarterback, Clark earned the first string position over heralded recruit Pat Devlin and promptly threw for 524 yards, five touchdowns, and zero interceptions in his first three starts. He also racked up 66 rushing yards running an option-oriented offense.

Michael Robinson: The 2005 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and the fifth-leading passer in Penn State history, Robinson will long be remembered as one of the Nittany Lions’ most storied quarterbacks. However, Robinson’s first three starts were rather uninspiring as he accumulated only 159 passing yards and two touchdowns in his first three weeks.

Todd Blackledge: Blackledge was a three-year starter for the Nittany Lions and won both a national championship and the Davey O’Brien Award for the nation’s best quarterback in 1982. He threw for 1037 yards and seven touchdowns in his first full season as a starter. (His individual game stats are not available.) If Hackenberg continues at his current pace, he could easily surpass these numbers by the homecoming game against Michigan.

Kerry Collins: The best quarterback in Penn State history, Collins holds countless passing records, had the most successful professional career of all Penn State quarterbacks, and led a historic, undefeated 1994 season that culminated in the school’s first Rose Bowl victory. However, in his first year as a starter, Collins connected on only 46% of his passes for 925 yards and four touchdowns. Hackenberg, through three games, is only 75 yards — in other words, only one more bomb to Allen Robinson — away from surpassing Collins’ total passing yardage in his debut season.

His career may be young, but through three games Christian Hackenberg has outperformed nearly every other great quarterback in Penn State history. The future could be very bright for both this true freshman and for Penn State football.

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Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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