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Christian Hackenberg: A Season in Review Week 1 vs Syracuse

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An in depth review of Christian Hackenberg's first collegiate start--vs Syracuse.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

This article is part 1 of the summary of Christian Hackenberg’s 2013 Season. I have taken the time to chart every Christian Hackenberg pass of his Freshman Season using Adjusted Accuracy Charts, make videos of his games showing nothing but his passes/runs, and recapping every game.

Arriving on campus just a few months before the start of the 2013 College Football Season, it was unknown if 5 star Recruit Christian Hackenberg would start immediately or have to wait behind incoming JuCO QB, Tyler Ferguson. Hackenberg was at an immediate disadvantage as he arrived on campus without the privilege of being an "early enrollee" which would have allowed him to arrive to the team in the beginning of 2013; Ferguson, who arrived in January, had quite the jump on Hackenberg, as he went through camp and weight training already. The two were in a competition for the job in the summer, but the touted Freshman had quickly received huge expectationsbased on his recruiting status, and potential to play early on. As time went on, Coach Bill O’Brien’s hand was forced, he caved and decided to start Hackenberg over Ferguson for the August 31st game against Syracuse.

Week 1 vs Syracuse



Thrown to...

Hits (Left)

Misses(Left)

Hits (Mid)

Misses (Mid)

Hits (Right)

Misses (Right)

> 20 Yds

1

1

1

0

0

0

10-20 Yds

0

1

1

0

1

1

0-10 Yds

1

2

1

0

10

1

< 0 Yards>

5

0

0

0

2

0



Adjusted Stats: 23/30. 2 TDs, 2 INTs. 8/12 (75%) to Left, ¾ (75%) to Middle, 13/15 (87 %) to right. 1 TD to Left at >20 Yards, 1 TD to Middle at >20 Yards. 1 INT to Right at 10-20 Yards, 1 INT to Right at 0-10 Yards.

Game Review: "Strong arm, he’s accurate, he’s athletic, he’s got all the tools, the question is: Can he do it as a Freshman? This is not an easy offense, that Bill O’brien has". These were the words first spoken by the announcers as the talented Freshman trotted onto the field for his first collegiate game.

To begin the game, the gameplan for the offense was as expected; not to much was placed on Hackenberg’s shoulders, and he wasn't asked to play outside of himself. They started the game with a healthy dose of running plays to help him out to begin. Through the 1st Quarter of the game, no pass traveled in the air more than 8 Yards, allowing Hack to get his confidence up; he started out 6-6 through the air. From the onset you could tell this was his team. O’brien put in Tyler Ferguson for a possession and you could see that he wasn’t bringing what the 5 Star Freshman was. Moving into the 2nd Quarter, Hackenberg grew more confident, showed good escapability and moved around and run some. As his confidence was on the rise, there came a Freshman mistake; with PSU moving down the field, the call was a Play-Action pass to Kyle Carter on a "Seam" Route…..Hackenberg eyed up his first read, threw without looking off the defense, and the ball was jumped and intercepted. After this mishap the offensive plays went right back to the quick-hit, short passing game we saw in the first half. Halftime hits, and we hear that Allen Robinson (who sat the 1st half for undisclosed reasons) would play in the 2nd half.

The 3rd Quarter begins, and the Hackenberg-Robinson connection gets an early start. On their first pass, Hackenberg throws a screen to ARob, which Robinson wrecking-balls down the field for a huge gain. The next throw is a Stop-and-go to Robinson, where Hackenberg pumps, then hits Robinson down the field (albeit not in stride) and it goes for a PSU Touchdown. As we would see for the rest of the game, Allen Robinson’s presence instantly took Hackenberg to the next level. The coaches allowed for more downfield passing, Hack moved in the pocket better, had better body language...the whole bag. This comes with some not-so-good too. Hackenberg became slightly dependant on Robinson, and when he wasn’t there for him, he appeared flustered on occasion. With that being said, Robinson presence on the field leaves other guys with better opportunities...with better opportunities you get beautiful things like this. (below, click and drag to resize.)


Overall - For a First start, this was a stellar overall game for Christian. Sure it wasn’t as outstanding as Jameis Winston’s near perfect game vs Pittsburgh just a few days later, but it was stellar for an 18 year old’s first game. The traits shown in game 1 by Hackenberg truly showed what a special talent he is. Everybody knew about the arm, but a lot of guys have the arm. The Star from Fork Union showcased terrific footwork, poise, mechanics, decision making (for the most part), eye level and leadership that most guys don’t have that early on. Hackenberg's performance was extremely impressive for a teenager's first collegiate start, and had it not been for Jameis Winston's domination at Heinz Field he likely would have received more national recognition for his performance. Overall, a solid performance for the Penn Stater, and win for the Nittany Lions.

In Comparison: Consider this, using ESPN's Pocket Passing QB and Dual Threat QB rankings, Hackenberg was one of only two (the other being California's Jared Goff who was 39/64 with 2  Tds/ 3 Ints in a loss to Northwestern) Top 40 Freshman QBs who started week 1; these two were also the only two to start the whole season, up until Goff's injury.

In looking at how impressive this start was for Hackenberg, i sought to look for other TRUE freshman QBs performances in their first start (not all in week 1). For comparisons sake, I stuck to more high-profile names who saw themselves at the top of their recruiting classes:

#1 QB Recruit, 4th Round Draft Pick Matt Barkley (USC) - 15/19, 233 Yds, 1 Td vs SJSU.

#1 QB Recruit, 2nd Round Draft Pick Jimmy Clausen (ND) - 17/32, 144 Yds, 1 INT vs PSU.

#1 QB Recruit, 1st Round Draft Pick Matt Stafford (UGA) - 10/17, 107 Yds, 0 Td vs Alabama Birmingham.

#1 QB Recruit, 3rd Round Draft Pick Terelle Pryor (OSU) - 10/16 139 Tds, 4 Td 1 Int vs Troy.

#7 QB Recruit, 1st Round Draft Pick Andrew Luck (Stan) - 11/23, 193 Tds, 1 Td vs Wash. St.

So, from a statistical standpoint, Hackenberg was right in line with the other big named Freshman QBs in their first start.

In trying to find some players to compare, you see that it is very rare for Quarterbacks to start in year one of them being on campus as a Quarterback; not many guys are far enough along in their development to start immediately which makes Christian's success all the more impressive. As we know, Hackenberg's success in the 2013 season did not stop after one game.

The next installment of this series will be Christian Hackenberg's week two performance vs Eastern Michigan University.