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Penn State Football Quarterback: Hackenberg and the Franklin Staff’s Seven Starters

by on January 24, 2014 2:40 AM

Three at Vanderbilt and seven overall in 10 years. With a nod to Leon Uris, call it QB VII.

That’s the starting quarterback count Penn State head coach James Franklin, QB coach Ricky Rahne and offensive coordinator John Donovan have had as quarterback coaches over their combined college careers.

Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg will make it eight.

Franklin and Co. are not only going from old to new. They are going from older to younger.

Of the three starting quarterbacks the coaches had at Vanderbilt in 2011-13, two were fifth-year starters. The third started part of his fourth season and all of his fifth. They were 24, 22 and 22 years old. Then there’s Hackenberg, who already has a year as a starter under his young belt yet turns just 19 on Valentine’s Day. (Of course his birthday is Feb. 14; as if he’s not heart-throb enough.)

Despite the age difference, Hack’s stats stack up nicely against that 24-year-old who started for the Commodores in 2013, Austyn Carta-Samuels. When Carta-Samuels was the starting QB for Wyoming back in 2009, Hackenberg was a high school freshman.

Franklin and Rahne have coached ‘em young. At Kansas State in 2006, Franklin (offensive coordinator/QB coach) and Rahne (GA) mentored a true freshman in future NFL starter Josh Freeman. And at Vanderbilt they coached the quarterback – Jordan Rodgers -- who took Freeman’s roster spot when Freeman was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in October 2013.

Rodgers is the younger brother of Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers’ superstar quarterback. Aaron was a Packers rookie in 2005, when Franklin served a one-year stint as the NFL’s team’s wide receivers coach.

The younger Rodgers, who started seven games in 2011 and 13 in 2012, was already at Vandy when Franklin got there. So was Larry Smith, the quarterback who started the first six games of Franklin’s first season, in 2011. Rodgers had already played two years at Butte Junior College before he arrived in Nashville.

Carta-Samuels started two years at Wyoming as a freshman and sophomore, then transferred to Vanderbilt, in large part because his grandfather went there. He joined the team as a walk-on. He missed a pair of games in 2013 after tearing his ACL, but returned to lead Vandy to three straight regular-season-ending victories. When he came back, his passing yards were down, but his completion and passing efficiency numbers went up.

Carta-Samuels’ younger brother, K.J., is also a quarterback. A four-star high school QB, K.J. had committed to Vanderbilt for 2014. But when Franklin left for Penn State, K.J. changed his mind, thought a bit about Penn State and on Thursday night committed to Washington.

Franklin coached Danny O’Brien as a redshirt freshman at Maryland, where O’Brien had a breakout 2010 season. Then Franklin left. A season later O’Brien left. By then it was 2012, and O’Brien considered transferring to Penn State to play for Bill O’Brien. The Maryland O’Brien even showed up at a Penn State spring practice. But he transferred to Wisconsin, where he sat on the bench in 2012. In 2013, he played for Catawba, a Division II college with 1,300 students – a far cry from his auspicious start.

Chris Turner, another Maryland starting quarterback, had both Donovan (2007) and Franklin (2008-09) as QB coaches as a starter his last three seasons. Donovan also coached Maryland starting QB Sam Hollenbach, a senior, in 2006.

If you count the four-year tag team of Donovan and Franklin, Turner is the only (at least sometimes-starting) QB the Penn State staff has seen from beginning to end. Franklin coached both O’Brien and Freeman their first two seasons, with O’Brien redshirting his freshman season.



As a group, Franklin, Rahne and Donovan have coached quarterbacks over 10 different seasons. Here is where those teams finished in the final NCAA team statistical rankings for FBS schools, of which there are currently 123. (Penn State’s comparative numbers also date back to 2006.)

Passing yards: Vanderbilt (2011-2013) – 67, 80, 97; Maryland (2008-2010) – 65, 68, 64; Kansas State (2006-07) – 21, 57; Maryland (2006-07) -- 77, 80. Average: 68th. Penn State: 37, 35, 96, 52, 39, 37, 75, 58. Average: 54th.

Total offense: Vanderbilt – 93, 80, 98; Maryland – 80, 102, 68; Kansas State – 40, 85; Maryland -- 92, 88. Average: 83rd. Penn State: 43, 53, 95, 68, 37, 15, 55, 53. Average: 52nd.

Pass efficiency: Vanderbilt – 45, 46, 105; Maryland – 47, 93, 76; Kansas State – 54, 106; Maryland – 47, 48. Average: 67th. Penn State: 48, 49, 112, 84, 27, 19, 74, n/a. Average: 60th.

Points scored: Vanderbilt – 56, 55, 61; Maryland – 29, 98, 92; Kansas State – 18, 69; Maryland – 86, 74. Average: 64th. Penn State: 69, 62, 110, 68, 52, 11, 45, 72. Average: 61st.



Here are season-ending statistics on the seven Franklin staff starters, as well as Hackenberg. Of the 12 categories, Hackenberg is No. 2 in five categories and No. 3 in two others.


True freshman, 6-foot-4, 220 pounds; 2013 (7-5)

Bill O’Brien HC/OC, Charlie Fisher, QB

231-392-2,955 yards; 58.9%; 10 int., 20 TD; 134 pass eff.

7.5y/att., 12.8y/comp.; int. every 45, TD every 18; 4 TD runs

* * * *


Fifth-year senior, 2013 (started 11 games; 8-3); 6-foot-1, 215 pounds

Franklin HC, Rahne QB, Donovan OC

193-281-2,268 yards; 68.7%; 9 int., 11 TD; 143.0 pass eff.

8.0y/att., 11.75y/comp.; int. every 31.2, TD every 25.5; 5 TD runs

Austyn Carta-Samuels, Wyoming

Sophomore, 2010 (3-9)

154-252-1,702 yards; 61.1%; 8 int., 9 TD; 123.3 pass eff.

6.75y/att., 11.05y/comp.; int. every 31.5, TD every 28; 3 TD runs

Austyn Carta-Samuels, Wyoming

Freshman, 2009 (7-6)

191-326-1,953 yards; 58.6%; 5 int., 10 TD; 116 pass eff.

6.0y/att., 10.2y/comp; int. every 65.2, TD every 32.6; 3 TD runs

* * * *


Fifth-year senior, 6-foot-1, 212 pounds; 2012 (9-4)

Franklin HC, Rahne QB, Donovan OC

191-319-2,539 yards; 59.9%; 5 int., 15 TD; 139.1 pass eff.

7.9y/att., 13.3y/comp; int. every 63.8, TD every 21.2; 2 TD runs

Jordan Rodgers, Vanderbilt

Fourth-year senior, 2011 (started 7 games; 4-3)

Franklin HC, Rahne QB, Donovan OC

108-216-1,524 yards; 50%; 10 int., 9 TD; 113.8 pass eff.

7.1y/att., 14.1y/comp.; int. every 21.6, TD every 24.3; 4 TD runs

* * * *


Fifth-year senior, 6-foot-2, 220 pounds; 2011 (started 6 games; 3-3)

Franklin HC, Rahne QB, Donovan OC

68-123-668 yards; 55.3%; 6 int., 5 TD; 113.9 pass eff.

5.4y/att., 9.8y/comp.; int. every 20.5, TD every 24.6; 2 TD runs

* * * *


Redshirt freshman, 6-foot-3, 212 pounds; 2010 (9-4);

Franklin AHC/OC/QB

192-337-2,438 yards; 57%; 8 int., 2 TD; 134.5 pass eff.

7.2y/att., 12.7y/comp.; int. every 42.1, TD every 15.3

* * * *


Senior, 6-foot-4, 220 pounds; 2009 (2-10);

Franklin AHC/OC/QB

180-303-2,069 yards; 59.4%; 10 int., 10 TD; 121 pass eff.

6.8y/att., 11.5y/comp.; int. every 30.3, TD every 30.3

Chris Turner, Maryland

Junior, 2008 (8-5)

Franklin AHC/OC/QB

214-374-2,516 yards; 57.2%; 13 int., 10 TD; 119.3 pass eff.

6.7y/att., 11.75y/comp.; int. every 28.8, TD every 34

Chris Turner, Maryland

Sophomore, 2007 (6-7)

Donovan QB

153-241-1,958 yards; 63.5%; 7 int., 7 TD; 135.5 pass eff.

8.1y/att., 12.8y/comp.; int. every 34.4, TD every 34.4

* * * *


Senior, 6-foot-4, 210 pounds; 2006 (9-4);

6-foot-4, 210 poundsDonovan QB

203-328-2,371 yards; 61.9%; 15 int., 1 TD; 131 pass eff.

7.2y/att., 11.7y/comp.; int. every 21.9, TD every 29.8

* * * *


Sophomore, 6-foot-6, 248 pounds; 2007 (5-7)

Franklin OC/QB, Rahne RB

316-499-3,353; 63.3%; 11 int., 18 TD; 127.3 pass eff.

6.7y/att., 106y/comp; int. every 45.3, TD every 27.7

Josh Freeman, Kansas State

True freshman, 2006 (7-6)

Franklin OC/QB, Rahne GA

140-270-1,780; 51.8%; 6 int., 15 TD; 103.5 pass eff.

6.6y/att., 12.7y/comp.; int. every 45, TD every 18


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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 His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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