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Hackenberg Tosses Masterclass In First Chapter Of New Era

by on August 30, 2014 8:20 PM

Dublin, Ireland. August. 30-

Standing inside the dimly lit tunnel of Croke Park a group of men were smiling, sharing congratulations. One of them was Christian Hackenberg, another was his father. The reason for their enthusiasm: 454 yards, 1 touchdown and a 26-24 Penn State victory.

Everything is going to be okay after all.

Rewind, and that was not always the obvious conclusion.

Coming to Penn State for Bill O'Brien's guidance gave Hackenberg's NFL future a path.

He would work with a man who lived, slept and breathed the world of football. A man who had one of the greatest quarterback's to play the game, Tom Brady, on his resume. O'Brien couldn't make the throws for Hackenberg, but he could make the throws easier.

O'Brien's knowledge of the game and ability to teach it was so great that Hackenberg took that leap of faith to join a Penn State program that had an unpredictable if not likely downward trajectory.

When O'Brien left, the Hackenberg camp's stance of simply waiting and seeing what happened next. Hackenberg's future was an investment not to be taken lightly.

With the hire of James Franklin generating new levels of excitement on the recruiting trail and in State College there would be no need for a change of scenery. Hackenberg would continue to play for Penn State and he would continue on his path toward a professional career.

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Even so, for all of his personality and for all of his recruiting skills, how James Franklin would be able to work with Hackenberg and use him on the field was an unknown. Would Franklin's loyalty to assistants and colleagues bring Hackenberg the coaches that he needed or would Franklin's hype simply be the pitch and not the delivery of the goods?

Saturday, August 30 provided a glimpse of those answers.

James Franklin and his staff might be damn fine at coaching.

And Christian Hackenberg is already pretty damn fine at playing quarterback under his new tutor.

Getting yards in a game is not all that hard. Zack Mills racked up impressive single game efforts but his career records are more indicative of longevity than an elite skill set.

However, in Penn State's 26-24 victory against UCF, Hackenberg not only threw for a Penn State record-breaking 454 yards, he put on a masterclass of how to play the position.

His poise was as good as it has ever been. His long throws were as accurate as he has thrown them. His only downfall -- two interceptions -- were the result of his own confidence talking himself into bad decisions. Other than that, Christian Hackenberg was nearly untouchable. Franklin may have inherited a quarterback at this level already, but the head coach utilized Hackenberg's talents nearly to perfection and Hackenberg did his part to make both of them look smart.

In many ways, that's what almost made Penn State's win a tragic loss. A Sam Ficken field goal saved the day, erasing the threat of wasting a performance for the ages on a loss.

Certainly, Penn State's victory was as much a display of what the team needs to improve on as much as it was great quarterbacking. Similarly though it was as much a display of a shorthanded team's ability to succeed as it was nearly the chance to blindly say that the Nittany Lions aren't very good. 

"We didn't play the prettiest game today," Coach James Franklin said after the game. "We did the things that you typically can't do, we had too many penalties, and we had turnovers. But, the more important thing is these guys never stopped believing in each other, never stopped believing in the program, and they found a way to win. That's a very, very important ingredient to have, and we have that."

"Those other things, the turnovers and the penalties, we can clean those things up. What I'm most proud of is when times got tough, and they went down and scored – that receiver made a huge play for them and the momentum swung -- there was only a minute or so left in the game, and I looked across the sideline and there wasn't doubt in anybody's eye. Everybody believed."

"They believed in Hack, they believed in Zettel, they believed in Ficken. And that's what I'm most proud of. And I'm proud that these fans can get back on the plane and fly back happy and enjoy themselves. We're going to get back to work again tomorrow."

It would be silly to take a single data point and make a sweeping generalization about Penn State's season and about Hackenberg's future. There are too many questions, too many better opponents and simply not enough information about the James Franklin era to do so.

But Saturday was the first measuring stick for the Hackenbeg/Franklin relationship. It was the first chance to see what Franklin can do with a team in maybe it's toughest year of sanctions. It was the first time that Hackenberg truly delivered in a way that made you understand the hype. Every chance to make the throw -- he made it, every drive Penn State had to have -- he delivered.

It might only be one game, but it sure was an impressive one.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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