Despite Record Day, Hackenberg Has Room For Improvement

Despite the numbers, despite the record, sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg really didn’t perform at his best Saturday afternoon. And he knows it.

“I tried to force some things that I shouldn’t have done,” he said. “I’m happy I’m getting it out of the way now and that I’m able to learn from it.”

Hackenberg finished Saturday with 319 passing yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He set the Penn State record for most passing yards in consecutive games: 706, breezing past Zack Mill’s previous mark of 686.

These are not stats to scoff at; instead, quite the contrary. Penn State hasn’t seen a quarterback this competent in a long time.

Still, he can be better. And his two interceptions left a lot to be desired.

The first, early in the second quarter, came inside Akron’s red zone, an area in which Hackenberg and his offense have struggled. Unhurried by the nonexistant Akron pass rush, No. 14 underthrew his intended receiver in the front corner of the end zone. Martel Durant — one of two defenders who had tagged the Lions’ receiver — easily cut in front to make the play.

And then Hackenberg made the exact same error, this time in the fourth quarter. Again from the Akron 19, Hackenberg targeted Geno Lewis in, again, the front corner of the end zone. And again, the Zips corner undercut the poorly thrown pass, and returned it 55 yards into Penn State territory.

At one point in Saturday’s contest, he had no idea what the f*** Penn State was doing.

Then there was the fumble. After a dismal second quarter, the Lions needed a big drive to jump start the second half. But on the fourth play of the half, Hackenberg and center Angelo Mangiro mixed up the snap count, and fumbled the exchange. DaeSean Hamilton was in motion, and the ball hit him as he crossed through the backfield.

“I didn’t give the snap count yet and [he] just let it rip,” Hackenberg said after the game. “It’s probably my fault.”

But these are only three bad plays. Hackenberg completed 22 of 36 passes, a 61% rate that is far from unfavorable. Still, on numerous occasions Hackenberg stood in the pocket for too long before ultimately lobbing a weak ball over the middle that was fortunate not to have been picked off. On one such occasion midway through the third quarter, Hackenberg waited and waited, even as Kyle Carter ran free through the secondary. After several seconds, he was ultimately sacked. The offensive line won’t be able to as effectively support Hackenberg under center against stronger opponents, and he’ll be punished even more for his mistakes.

Luckily, Hackenberg is optimistic that he will improve as the season goes on.

“It’s something that I have to work on, just improving those three or four plays a game where I get greedy or try to force things,” he acknowledged. “It’s part of getting better.”

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Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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