Penn State Football: Grading Christian Hackenberg's Freshman Season
Christian Hackenberg burst on the scene in 2013 as the Penn State Nittany Lions' starting quarterback, and he was received with rave reviews.
Throwing for nearly 3,000 yards with 20 touchdowns has been known to draw some positive attention.
Now it's time to dissect his rookie campaign without a filter. No "good for a freshman" disclaimers or talk about how he was at his high school prom just a few months ago.
This is the big leagues, and it's time to put "Hack" and his boyish looks through the ringer.
All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.
There's no question that Hackenberg can make all the throws. He has touch on his short routes and zip on intermediate stuff, and he seemingly flicks the ball 50 yards down the field with ease.
Unfortunately, he struggled at times this year with accuracy. Although he ended the season having completed 58.9 percent of his passes, that number was less than 55 percent in five of the 12 games he played.
Several times this season, Hack overthrew or underthrew wide open receivers deep down the field and also missed on a few of the bubble screens that Bill O'Brien called so frequently this season.
Part of it could be developing timing with his wideouts, while nerves may have also played a part at times.
A "B+" is hardly a bad grade, and there's a good chance he'll earn an "A" next year once he works out some kinks.
Coming into college, nobody expected Hackenberg to be the next RG3. However, he showed some mobility toward the end of the season and will probably learn to tuck it and run more in the future.
O'Brien showed great confidence in the young quarterback, rolling him out on play-action bootlegs several times each game. Hack responded with terrific footwork and is surprisingly accurate on the move.
Perhaps the most impressing feat by his feet (you like that?) came while back to pass.
An uncoachable skill, Hack's footwork while sliding around in the pocket is as good as most NFL quarterbacks. He has a feel for pressure and the ability to move away from it unfazed while keeping his eyes down field.
Decision Making: B-
Without knowing the playbook, it's impossible to know for sure when he was making the right read or checking down on command. However, it was evident at times that Hackenberg was looking for his All-Conference wide receiver and would occasionally force the ball to Allen Robinson.
Also, on a few occasions, he would take the risk down the field rather than hit the open tight end underneath for a first down.
The one glaring play that sticks out to many was the third down in overtime when it appeared that Hack could have easily ran for the first down but instead tried to throw it into a tight window at the goal line, where it fell incomplete.
It became evident that Christian Hackenberg was a leader in the summer of 2012 when he stood by his pledge to the Nittany Lions while seemingly everyone else was distancing themselves from the program.
While he doesn't come off as a loud guy in the huddle and doesn't run up and down the sideline yelling, it's apparent that Hackenberg had the respect of his teammates from the word "go."
Football players want to win, and the Nittany Lions knew that, as in most cases, their quarterback had the ability to lead them to victory. Guys will follow a player like that.
It's difficult to step into a locker room in your first year and command respect, but he did just that. Hack's role as a leader will only grow.
If you watch enough sports, you'll see just about every type of demeanor. There's the guy who throws his helmet or hits the Gatorade bucket with a bat. You'll see guys who laugh after striking out and others who constantly talk trash to the opponent.
You'll also see guys like Christian Hackenberg.
He's the type who never gets too high when things are going well or too low when they're going bad. He gets upset at himself for mental errors and is quick to point out mistakes to his teammates without being abrasive.
He knows he'll get another shot, and he's confident that he can succeed when he does.
And then he succeeds.
Hackenberg made huge plays in clutch situations all year long. No one will ever forget his throw to Robinson that led to the overtime win over Michigan. He had thrown two interceptions prior to that.
How about the bullet he threw for the game-winning touchdown in overtime against Illinois? That was his only touchdown pass of the day, and it came after a less-than-stellar second half that saw the Illini climb back into a game they were out of.
By the end of the season, Penn State fans were sure there wasn't anything Hack was incapable of. Defeating Wisconsin on the road as 24-point underdogs just reinforced that opinion.
Final Grade: A
Christian Hackenberg has the physical tools at his disposal, and he will hone them and become one of the elite passers in all of college football over time, perhaps sooner rather than later.
More importantly, he has the mental fortitude to succeed and understands the game.
Ask yourself how many times you were watching this season and temporarily forgot that he was a freshman. Most true freshmen remind you every few snaps. Remember Rob Bolden?
With repetition and coaching, Hack will learn to combine his quick thinking with solid decision making, and the sky is the limit. It's going to be a fun few years in Happy Valley.