Penn State Football: Hackenberg's Performance One For The Books And The Future
Over the course of the long history of Penn State football there have been 1,132 games.
On Saturday, true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg overcame a slow start to pass for 311 yards, a mark good enough that it has been bettered only 16 other times in the history of those 1,132 contests.
In the process, Hackenberg broke Penn State's single-game freshman passing record by 31 yards and led the Nittany Lions to a commanding 45-7 victory over Eastern Michigan.
For Penn State fans the day was a reminder that he, as his coach so often reminds people, is only weeks removed from his senior prom; the 18-year-old recording a fumble and a preventable interception.
But as that same 18-year-old effortlessly flicked a 45-yard pass to a streaking Allen Robinson, Saturday was also a reminder that Christian Hackenberg is not your normal college freshman.
Surprisingly only 21 Penn State quarterbacks have thrown for over 200 yards multiple times in their career. Of the 21 quarterbacks to have done this, only 11 have broken the 300 yard mark and only three have ever broken the 300 yard total multiple times.
Kerry Collins, maybe Joe Paterno's best quarterback, did so four times. Daryll Clark, who piloted one of Penn State's most explosive offenses in history did it three times.
The other? Bill O'Brien's first and only other quarterback, Matt McGloin, who blew through the threshold six times in his career, four of which came under the counseling of O'Brien. Those four games, in many ways, punching McGloin's ticket to the NFL.
So for Hackenberg, even facing a struggling EMU team, his performance is one that should not be disregarded just because of the opponent. For better or worse Hackenberg is already in rarefied air among some of the greats to have played in State College.
What should excite Penn State fans, is the fact that Hackenberg and O'Brien both know they can do better and that Saturday is just one stepping stone in a longer journey.
"It's still a work in progress, we have to execute better, especially at the beginning of the game," O'Brien said of the offense. "It's a lot of fun to coach this group. It's a resilient football team. We try to take it one day at a time."
"I was reminded by one of the assistant coaches, again, this is (Hackenberg's) first game in Beaver Stadium. You can take 5,000 recruiting trips here, but it isn't like playing here. This was his first game. He was amped up. I thought he, obviously, settled down pretty well. I think it's pretty easy to see, he's a hard working kid. He has talent. It's one day at a time. Try to get better, watch the film and see if we can improve against a very, very tough Central Florida team."
In his second go around with reporters, Hackenberg was as poised in the media scrum as he was in the pocket. Dishing out compliments to his teammates while continuing to acknowledge that he could get even better.
"The offense executed well," Hackenberg said. "But I feel like I missed a couple of throws here or there, missed a couple of checks that could have led to bigger plays. So Coach O'Brien and I will work together to continue to build our relationship and to fix those mistakes."
Early in his career it's hard to accurately predict where Hackenberg will end up. The world of athletics is a fickle and unpredictable one that can see players exceed and underwhelm expectations. What likely is best for both fans and Hackenberg is to focus on the "now." The non-conference schedule is a far cry from a night game in Columbus, Ohio but historic performances can't be disregarded.
"I didn't really come in here with expectations," Hackenberg said. "I'm just focused on my role in the offense and it's designed in a way that it'll take care of itself."
"Taking care of itself" worked out pretty well for Penn State on Saturday and if Hackenberg can continue to grow and learn from these kinds of performances on Saturdays it won't be longer before somebody with deep pockets is taking care of him on Sunday.