Penn State Football: Hackenberg Still in The Thick of Quarterback Race Following Spring Practice
All spring long Penn State coach Bill O’Brien has given quarterbacks Stephen Bench and Tyler Ferguson an equal chance. The competition was so equal that O’Brien knew a few weeks ago exactly how many reps each had received in practice without even thinking about it.
At Penn State’s annual Blue-White game nothing about that changed. Both quarterbacks completed 9-of-15 passes with Bench throwing for 99 yards, only nine more than his fellow gunslinger. Ferguson won the scoring battle throwing for two touchdowns to Bench’s single scoring throw. Each had their good throws and their bad throws.
For a game that often sheds light on a quarterback battle, nothing about Saturday’s quick moving contest offered up much insight. If anything it proved that O’Brien’s demand of giving each quarterback equal time in practice was well-reasoned. Neither is playing poorly and neither is pulling away.
“I think they both had some nice throws,” O’Brien said after the game. “You know, I think that this goes for everybody, coaches and players, there are always plays you’d like to have back. But I think they both did some good things out there today.”
While the stats may look the same, breaking them down a little further could shed at least some speculative insight into the minds of each quarterback.
Bench is most comfortable throwing to the right side of the field. Over half of the Georgia native’s throws were directed towards the right third of the field with almost all of his completions coming from these throws.
Conversely Ferguson was not very particular with the location of his passes as each third of the field received about a third of his throws. The sample size is small and to Bench’s credit he played a stronger second half. This included a well-constructed scoring drive to open the second half, but ultimately Ferguson’s equal distribution of pass locations is a sign of confidence in his on-field vision.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Saturday’s contest was the fact that incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg won’t need to put together an unbelievable training camp to win the job.
If Hackenberg’s grasp of the playbook is good -a book that was FedEx’d to his house long ago- then it will be all about timing and execution come August. He might even already be getting some chemistry worked out with his offensive line as center Ty Howle indicated after the game that he has talked to Hackenberg regularly since his signing months ago.
Before training camp ever gets here O’Brien might cut down on Hackenberg’s competition as well. Ever focused on getting the most out of every practice, the idea of giving three quarterbacks equal reps this summer isn't something O'Brien is thrilled with.
“We’ll integrate [Hackenberg] in there,” O’Brien said. “It’s difficult to get three quarterbacks reps during training camp and we’ll have to evaluate that over the next couple months and how we’re going to do that, if we’re going to do that. We have to go back and evaluate this game and myself personally all of the practices and see where we’re at.”
If O’Brien removes one quarterback from the starting competition there is no telling who it will be. Both have had good practices and poor practices and neither performed leaps and bounds better than the other on Saturday. Penn State likely didn’t recruit Ferguson from a junior college last winter to use him as a reserve, but Bench’s extra year in the system shouldn’t be disregarded either.
That means it will come down to what O’Brien wants to see in his signal caller, and like many of those high profile decisions he won’t be telling anyone until he’s ready.