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Penn State Football: Four Downs on Christian Hackenberg with New QB Coach Ricky Rahne

by on February 03, 2014 1:00 AM

Ricky and Hack. Will they be as close as Bill and Christian?

Who knows? But Penn State’s new quarterback coach, Ricky Rahne, is anxious to find out.

For Rahne, though, patience is a virtue. Although the drive from Cornell and Ithaca, N.Y., to State College is only 179 miles, it took him a dozen years to make his way to Nittany Valley.

While his wife Jen is from Pittsburgh and a North Allegheny High School grad, the very first regular season game Rahne will see in Beaver Stadium will be Sept. 6. That's when the Nittany Lions host Akron in their 2014 home opener -- "in front of 107,000 fans," he joked, "as I've been assured by our head coach that we'll have at all times."

A Colorado native, Rhane was a three-year starting quarterback at Cornell, where he threw for 7,710 yards with 54 TD passes and 32 interceptions before graduating in 2002 with a degree in industrial and labor relations.

Since then, he’s coached at Holy Cross (assistant D-line), Cornell (running backs) and Kansas State (offensive GA, tight ends, running backs) -- two of those seasons (2006-07) at K-State with new Penn State head coach James Franklin -- as well as Vanderbilt.

Like the majority of Franklin’s PSU staff, Rahne came to Penn State after a three-year stint with the Commodores. During that time, he was Vandy’s quarterbacks coach and, as such, he tutored four different starters:

In 2011, starting time at quarterback with the Commodores was split between fifth-year senior Larry Smith and fourth-year junior Jordan Rodgers – the younger brother of Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers. 

In 2012, Rodgers had the job to himself.

In 2013, fifth-year senior Austyn Carta-Samuels started nine games and, while he was out with an ACL injury, true freshman Patton Robinette handled the play-calling duties. (As a freshman and sophomore, Carta-Samuels was a two-year starter at Wyoming, throwing for 3,655 yards and 19 TDs.)

From 2011-13 under Rahne and with a veteran-laden group of mostly fifth-year seniors, the Commodores’ passing game averaged, per season, 210 completions and 357 attempts (58.8%) for 2,667 yards, with 15.7 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions.

Those numbers are almost as good as what true freshman Christian Hackenberg posted as a 12-game starter in 2013 for the Nittany Lions: 231 of 392 (58.9%) for 2,955 yards, with 20 TD passes and 10 interceptions.

Last season, with the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Hackenberg under center, the Nittany Lions ranked 37th nationally in passing, 48th in passing efficiency and 43rd in total offense. Vanderbilt, in the same categories, ranked 67th, 45th and 93rd.

Rahne is rarin’ to go. He’s already met with Hackenberg a few times and has shared with him video of his position meetings at Vanderbilt. During a media opportunity 10 days ago when Franklin announced his staff, we had the chance to ask Rahne a few questions about Franklin, a former college QB himself, and Hackenberg.

1. With a new offense, what will be the most difficult adjustment for Hackenberg?

“It’s probably terminology more than anything. We have slightly different terminology than coach (Bill) O’Brien used. It is a system that is not hard to understand once you learn it. I have the utmost confidence in his ability to understand it, the other quarterbacks to understand it and my ability to teach it. I don’t think we’re going to be limited any more than he was last year.

“We’ve already given Christian some things so he can start getting going. I gave him some videos and things to look at, hopefully to give him an understanding of my coaching style … some meetings and things like that.”

2. How much is Franklin involved in coaching the quarterbacks?

“He’s the leader of our program, so he’s going to insert himself in every position, to be quite honest with you. Early on at Vanderbilt he did that. After he was confident that everything was being taught the way he wanted, he stood back.

“There are a lot of responsibilities as a head coach. It’s not the way it used to be. The media, the alumni, the board of trustees – all those sorts of things keep him busy. He has a lot of things on his plate. So that’s why he hires guys who he trusts who are going to do things the way he thinks needs to be done. If he has time, he’ll pop his head in there (quarterbacks meeting room) every once in awhile and drop some knowledge on us. I love having that because he’s been a very successful coach. That’s how he got to this point. Anything I can get from him will help us be better.”

3. Have you met with Hackenberg?

“I’ve had good conversations with him. I sat down with him a couple of times. I tried to give him some information to help him, because I know he is chomping at the bit to learn the offense. And I can’t wait to help him learn it. I’m excited. I like recruiting because I like to recruit good players. But the reason I’m in this business is to coach football. I’m excited to get to coach someone who is really eager to learn and has shown the ability to process that information and to process it into touchdowns and wins.

“… After meeting him a little, I think he appreciates this opportunity and all the support everyone gives him. It appears he really loves being the quarterback at Penn State. That’s a great deal. My job is to make sure he gets better fundamentally and keeps getting better mentally. And his goal is the same.”

4. In what areas can he improve?

“I’ve not watched enough tape to make that determination. My (weakness) was talent, so I don’t think he has much of a shortage of that. His poise is the No. 1 asset he has and it comes through, obviously. He has some great size and some arm strength. The things I’ve been impressed with are his poise and how humble of a kid he is. I’m really looking forward to helping him get better every day and helping him take his game to even higher heights.

“… I’ve seen his high school tape. I know he’s extremely athletic.  I’m looking forward to working with him.”

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979. He is a senior lecturer in Penn State's College of Communications and teaches a pair of classes in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism: “Sports Writing” and “Introduction to the Sports Industry.” He created and taught for several years the Center’s course on “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media.” Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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