Christian Hackenberg Delivers Commanding Performance Against Aztecs
Though he wouldn’t say it publicly, there’s no denying that Christian Hackenberg could hear his critics loud and clear, especially after lackluster performances in his team’s last three games. Hackenberg was expected to be transcendent in his third year under center, not add to the regression narrative. But against San Diego State, Hackenberg was poised and collected, managing the game while making a number of highlight-reel throws down the field. It was encouraging, and bodes well for the team as it begins the latter stages of its five-game homestand.
“I thought Christian played well today, and obviously there are aspects of his game that he’d like to improve upon,” James Franklin said during his postgame press conference. “I thought he did some really good things tonight, and I think he’s done some nice things over the last three weeks. He’s reading the field well pre-snap, checking into runs and addressing blitzes. Tonight he was able to get the ball to his playmakers, and they made some plays for us.”
Going 21-35 for 296 yards and three touchdowns, Hackenberg took a number of deep shots throughout the game — something he hasn’t done often in 2015. Allowing Hackenberg to let loose and make some deeper throws affected the offense’s dynamic, opening up lanes underneath that allowed Penn State to generate yardage in space.
“Whenever you can get the ball down the field, it helps with the short stuff, and even on some of the stuff we threw short, we drew pass interference calls because the defense squatted on our routes,” James Franklin said. “Typically, spreading the field opens up opportunities in the run game as well. Overall, I was pleased with what our offense gave us tonight.”
Hackenberg acknowledged the performance, but noted that it doesn’t matter what it takes to win, as long as his team winds up on top at the end of the day.
“Whatever we have to do to ensure that we come out on top, that’s what we’re going to do,” Hackenberg said postgame. “I think our receivers did a great job adjusting to bend coverage and defeat man coverage at times. They threw a little personality at the end of their routes, and overall we did a great job executing.”
Those are the words of a selfless leader, one that cares little about personal accolades, and more about the greater good of the team. Obviously, there was an air of frustration with his recent play over the past few games, but all of that resentment seems to have subsided after a commanding victory in front of a supportive home crowd.
This is the Christian Hackenberg Penn State needs as it approaches its gauntlet road schedule, highlighted by trips to Ohio State and Michigan State. This team is loaded with talent across the board, and it affirmed that notion against the Aztecs. But Hackenberg exuded another characteristic, one fans haven’t seen much of this season — confidence. Hackenberg stepped into throws, managed the game, and led his offense in commanding fashion. Yes, it was only one game, but it was a game this team desperately needed from its star signal-caller.
Time will tell if Hackenberg can continue his run of good form, but if he can sustain this level of play, the sky’s the limit for what the Nittany Lions can do offensively.