Statistically, Christian Hackenberg didn’t play very well last year. After throwing for 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a freshman, Hackenberg threw for just 12 touchdowns and 15 interceptions as a sophomore.
Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find that Hackenberg was under fire a lot. He was sacked 44 times, and the running game was not where it needed to be.
Still, Hackenberg led Penn State to a 31-30 win over Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl, going 34-of-50 for 371 yards and four touchdowns, including the game-winning touchdown pass to Kyle Carter in overtime.
Can Hackenberg take a performance like that and translate it to this year?
“Yeah, I look at it completely different than everybody else,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “I talked all offseason before the season started last year – everybody wanted to talk about Christian, and I said, ‘Our issue’s not Christian. It’s solving all the pieces of the puzzle around Christian.’ We only had one returning starter on the offensive line, three of our four receivers that were going to be playing for us were freshmen, and Christian kind of took the brunt of everybody’s frustration. I’m pretty defensive and protective of him because if you study it, like a lot of people do, it makes sense. I expect him to have a huge year this year as these pieces of the puzzle around him continue to gain experience and confidence.”
It’s obviously been a draining couple of years for Penn State, which endured the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the fallout and ensuing death of Joe Paterno, and Bill O’Brien bolting for the NFL. The Nittany Lions have gone 22-15 over the last three seasons but should see an uptick in wins as things continue to get back to normal in State College.
But coming off a bowl win – and with the potential No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft under center – has Penn State officially turned the corner?
“Terms like that are for you guys,” Franklin said. “We just wake up every single morning and maximize that day. I like where we’re headed, but talk is great before the season. Let’s see how we open up at Lincoln Financial Field against Temple, and let’s see where we end up at the end of the season. I can sit here and say all I want. It’s about how we’re going to go out and perform and how we’re going to produce and how we’re going to execute as a family and as a team.”