Christian Hackenberg did not have the season he, or anyone else for that matter, expected. After an impressive true freshman season that concluded with a brilliant performance against one of the top defenses in the nation, Hackenberg was expected to make the leap into the upper-echelon of collegiate quarterbacks. Mel Kiper ranked him as the number one overall prospect in his class, and fans frothed at the mouth in anticipation of what would surely be the second coming of Kerry Collins this fall.
Then Pat Fitzgerald went and gave the rest of the teams on Penn State's schedule a blueprint on exactly how to shut down the Nittany Lion offense- don't worry much about an ineffective run game and put non-stop pressure on Hackenberg. Things got ugly real fast as Hackenberg's productivity dissolved as he no longer had the luxury of making reads in the pocket. Instead, he had to look at the oncoming rush and figure out how to get the ball off in time, many times unsuccessfully. The constant harassment resulted in a quick decline in Hackenberg's mechanics to the point that even when he had a little bit of time, he would regularly be off target because he got so used to having to make a quick throw just to survive to see another down.
When all seemed lost, the offensive line finally gelled in time to give Hackenberg enough time in the pocket to do the things we all knew he was capable of. Sure, there were a few rushed misfires, but the scars of a battle-tested regular season that saw Hackenberg get sacked more than any other quarterback in the history of the Big Ten were too fresh for him to completely hit the reset button on his mechanics. Still, he put on a show that made it clear that we can once again have great expectations for him with an improved offensive line in 2015.
For Hackenberg, the season ended just as it began in Dublin. Given time, Hackenberg stood tall in the pocket, made his reads and got the ball in the exact position needed for the receiver to make a play. He demonstrated skills that so very few quarterbacks have as he made play after play and fired off bullets that materialized in the hands of his receivers. Heck, he even made many throws that the majority of NFL quarterbacks couldn't make.
Hackenberg finished 34 of 50 for 371 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. To put this into context, Hackenberg only managed eight touchdown passes for the duration of the regular season. While some circles of Penn State fans thought he was destined to be a bust, he went out and proved what an incredible talent he is, and why we should be extremely excited to see what he can do as an upperclassman.
Bravo, Christian. Can't wait to see you next year.
WR Chris Godwin- Hello, Mr. Godwin. For the most part, it seemed as though Godwin was forced onto the field a bit early and that he still had some growing to do to be a productive receiver. He finally had that breakthrough game in a huge way, by catching seven passes for 140 yards that included a 72-yard touchdown reception for the game's first score. Suddenly, Penn State's young receiving corps became much more promising.
WR Geno Lewis- After struggling during the second half of the season, Lewis came back in a big way with seven receptions for 82 yards an a touchdown. He demonstrated excellent focus on the touchdown catch on the final play of the third quarter that helped propel Penn State to the comeback victory.
TE Kyle Carter- After being nearly forgotten about, a healthy Carter reverted to 2012 form with three catches for 30 yards and an overtime touchdown that allowed for Sam Ficken to seal the victory with a walk-off PAT.
LB Nyeem Wartman- Wartman finished with a career-high 11 tackles, and appears ready to take the torch from Mike Hull as the next great at Linebacker U.
DTs Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel- Both did a tremendous job of shutting down the middle to slow down a very powerful Boston College rushing attack. They regularly made plays in and out of the backfield and put heat on Eagles quarterback Tyler Murphy whenever he dropped back to pass. This duo may just be the best combination of defensive tackles in the nation in 2015.
K Sam Ficken- Ficken sealed the deal with his walk-off PAT, and the 45-yard field goal with :20 on the clock to force overtime was absolutely cold-blooded.
The Seniors- Every single one of them. An absolutely amazing group of student-athletes who stayed to make sure Penn State made it through the most difficult period any other group has faced in collegiate sports. A million "thank yous" are still not enough.