From the moment he stepped on campus, people were already looking ahead to when he would be leaving as a sure fire first round pick in the NFL Draft, but for Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg the journey to get there has been a little more difficult than envisioned.
After a freshman year that saw him throw for 20 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 yards while playing for Bill O’Brien – now the head coach for the NFL Houston Texans – Hackenberg struggled his sophomore year – the first under James Franklin.
Under the new head coach, the former Fork Union Military Academy star threw more interceptions than he did touchdowns and was sacked more than double the amount of times he was as a freshman.
After just being sacked 21 times in 2013, or once every 18.667 pass, Hackenberg was sacked 44 times last year – once every 11 passes he attempted.
Hackenberg has thrown with almost fringe-level accuracy, completing 55.8% of his passes last year, down from just 58.9% two years ago – not a completely awful number for a true freshman but a number ideally you would want to see higher.
Entering 2015, Hackenberg and Penn State drew a tough start to their season – facing the very strong Temple Owls defense. Returning ten starters including tackling machine Tyler Matakevich (who intercepted Hackenberg last year), the Owls gave the Nittany Lions’ offensive line fits, which led to a total of ten sacks.
Without Protection, Christian Hackenberg’s Struggles Continue
At that current pace, Hackenberg will have been sacked his 2014 total before the team reaches the halfway point of the regular season. Hit so often, Hackenberg was never able to get the Nittany Lion going after jumping out to a quick 10-0 lead.
Akeel Lynch ran in the team’s lone touchdown, a 42 yard scamper. After that, thought, it was mostly watching Hackenberg either taste the dirt or miss his receiver. Understandably nervous in the pocket, Hackenberg missed some open receivers that could have helped Penn State get a drive moving but in the end finished the day completing less than 50% of his passes (11-of-25). Barely topping the century mark through the air, the Nittany Lions limped all the way to just 183 total yards on offense.
For the obviously skilled quarterback, it wasn’t completely bad as he showed off his arm strength that scouts have been drooling over for the past few years. Early in the first, Hackenberg connected with Geno Lewis for first down, hitting his receiver perfectly at the sideline on a third and five.
But two of the next three plays further showed his consistency problems that has plagued him, throwing the ball at the receiver’s feet on a screen pass and then throwing the ball behind his intended receiver across the middle. A pass on target and not only would Lewis would have been able to catch, but it was likely a touchdown, making it 7-0 instead of 3-0.
Even with the size and arm, Hackenberg has yet to break through and show that he is a worthy first round pick. Stats aren’t the end-all be-all, but for someone who had as bad a season as Hackenberg had last year, it sure wouldn’t help.
What would also help is being able to stand up in the pocket and deliver the ball with all the authority his 6’4”, 220 pound frame would allow him to.
With the schedule only going to get tougher from here, we will see if that is even a possibility.