NCAA FOOTBALL: Penn State freshman QB Hackenberg pleased with his progress
STATE COLLEGE — His career as a full-time starter now at six games, Christian Hackenberg’s freshman season already has reached halftime.
Penn State’s 18-year-old quarterback has had more good times than bad while leading the Nittany Lions to a 4-2 record heading into a second bye week at the halfway point. And they’ll follow up a 43-40, four-overtime victory over previously undefeated Michigan with an Oct. 26 trip to No. 4 Ohio State.
“I think we were going to (carry momentum) either way,” said Hackenberg. “We’re really focused as a team. That’s a testament to the coaching staff and how we attack each day at practice.
“(The bye week) is even better. We have a couple more days to prepare, get a good game plan and get ready to go to a hostile environment and play a really good football team. I think it’s more of a bonus for us.”
Penn State’s bonus has been Hackenberg’s rapid development. He leads the Big Ten with nearly 279 yards passing per game, a figure that is 21st in FBS. He engineered a drive against Michigan that covered 80 yards and five plays in just 50 seconds to send the game into overtime.
“I can tell you that obviously any time you win a game like that — with a drive like that — it helps your confidence,” O’Brien said. “It helps you the next time with your confidence the next time something like that comes up. I’m sure it helps in his development.”
It was enough to earn Hackenberg Big Ten freshman of the week honors for the third time this season, something he prefers to take in stride. Instead, he credits teammates for overall success.
“Watching the replay gave me a lot of things to learn from, and it gave me a different view on it, I guess you could say,” Hackenberg said. “In the heat of the moment, I really didn’t understand how everything transpired, but once I sat down it made me really proud of our team and how we responded as a whole.”
Hackenberg has responded to much of what’s been thrown at him, especially the speed of the game — typically a trouble spot for freshmen.
“Speed is something I wanted to focus on and try to make it happen as soon as I could,” he said. “I feel pretty comfortable now, but it’s an ever-changing part of the game with me.”
There will be speed aplenty in Hackenberg’s next opponent. Ohio State is 6-0 and 2-0 in the conference.
“I’m looking forward to Ohio State,” Hackenberg said. “That’s a first for me. A lot of guys have played in pretty hostile environments and I’m going to be leaning on them for tips and when to use certain cadences and stuff like that.
“I’m happy where I’m at right now. I just feel like there’s always room for improving every aspect.”