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Hackenberg Shines, Penn State Outguns San Diego State 37-21

The 1-2 San Diego State Aztecs trekked across the country and over three time zones for a nationally broadcasted matchup with 2-1 Penn State. They struggled to get any offense going, while John Donovan finally let his star quarterback play the game he wanted. The former had a tough day, and the latter had some fun. Penn State 37, San Diego State 21.

How It Happened

San Diego State won the coin toss and received the ball to start, but only could muster a three-and-out. Garrett Sickels and Anthony Zettel brought down quarterback Maxwell Smith on third down to force a punt. Penn State’s first possession wasn’t much better, as the Aztecs’ complex blitzes slowed down the rushing attack and didn’t give Hackenberg much time to throw. A few series later, Hackenberg hit a streaking Saeed Blacknall for 45 yards as he was down at the one-yard line. A few plays later, Saquon Barkley scored the touchdown of the year, though San Diego State scored on the ensuing kickoff. Joey Julius added a field goal and the Nittany Lions led 10-7 after one quarter.

Saquon Barkley carried his tidal wave of momentum into the second quarter, setting up the Nittany Lions with a first and goal after a 21-yard scamper along the left sideline. Hackenberg, who looked far different than the quarterback we’ve seen in recent weeks, had two solid looks to the endzone, but couldn’t connect on either one. Mike Gesicki fell short after a three-yard grab and go, while Hackenberg’s following pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage. Joey Julius’ trusty leg tacked on three more points, moving the Lions ahead 13-7.

The Aztecs were once again quick to respond, as Rashaad Penny took the ensuing handoff 50-yards downfield, setting up Maxwell Smith to fire a dime over the outstretched arms of John Reid into the corner of the endzone. Smith, who entered the contest completing just 49 percent of his passes on the year, looked poised in the pocket despite constant pressure from the Nittany Lion front seven. Hackenberg nearly provided an answer of his own, barely overthrowing Saeed Blacknall on another deep ball. Speaking of Blacknall, he and Hackenberg developed quite the rapport throughout the first half. Despite newfound success through the air, the Lions were again denied points as Joey Julius’ 55-yard attempt was blocked before it ever had a chance.

Though the offense seemed to gel through the air, Penn State’s primary source of production was confined to the locker room, as Barkley tended to an unspecified ankle injury. Beaver Stadium came to life as a muffed San Diego State punt gave Penn State the ball inside the redzone with under two minutes to play. Mark Allen, who began the day as the team’s No. 3 back, was called upon to start after Barkley and Lynch left with injuries. He took advantage of the opportunity, sprinting in for his first career touchdown. After a fumble recovery, Penn State tacked on six more after a strike to Chris Godwin — giving Hackenberg 234 yards and three touchdowns on the day.

The third quarter started off with some bad Penn State play-calling, which we hadn’t seen in the first half. The Lions punted it away quickly, then forced an Aztecs punt. DeAndre Thompkins, standing directly in the 5:46 p.m. sun, muffed it and the away team took over at the 20-yard line. It took a few attempts and Penn State penalties, but the Aztecs eventually found the end zone to make it a one-possession game at 27-21.

After a relatively listless third quarter, 323-pound defensive tackle Austin Johnson took a Carl Nassib forced fumble 71-yards to the endzone, making for one of the best fat-guy touchdowns you’ll ever see. Following the thunderous touchdown, Hackenberg connects with Godwin along the right sideline, but the offense stagnates and has to settle for a field goal.

Despite a slew of injuries, the Nittany Lions were able to defeat the Aztecs behind Anthony Zettel’s emotionally-charged performance, along with a surprising showing through the air by Christian Hackenberg.

Player Of The Game

Christian Hackenberg made a statement to his critics today, delivering an encouraging performance while dispelling questions about his ability to lead the offense. Through three games, Hackenberg looked timid and skittish but Saturday, he looked like a new man. He stood confidently in the pocket, delivering a handful of darts downfield — something he hasn’t been able to do in quite a while. Finishing the day with 296 yards and three touchdowns, Hackenberg looked every part talented gunslinger Penn State fans know and love.

Tweet Of The Game

What’s Next?

The Nittany Lions will play host to Army West Point on Oct. 3 at noon next Saturday.

About the Author

David Abruzzese

David is a senior from Rochester, NY, nestled right in beautiful Western New York. He is majoring in Broadcast Journalism, and as an avid sports fan, he passionately supports the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres. He is the first Penn Stater from his family, and couldn’t be prouder to represent Penn State University. In his free time, he likes to alpine ski, and play golf. You can follow him on Twitter @abruz11, and can contact him via email at [email protected]

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