At some point during yesterday's thriller in Dublin, I am guessing we all had this thought: Christian Hackenberg is playing just his 13th collegiate football game. It was only a year ago that he became the 2nd true freshman to ever start for Penn State at quarterback, in a 23-17 win over Syracuse.
Saturday's 26-24 win against UCF was eerily similar to that game in several aspects, most notably the reliance on the sophomore's right arm. Sure, there were the interceptions, and a few other throws that I am sure left us scratching our heads, but when plays needed to be made, Hackenberg was the guy that made them (with some help from Geno Lewis).
There is plenty to fix in the coming weeks, like making sure the Lions don't need school record passing days and two 100 yard receivers to win (i.e. a running game), but the biggest question every team faces is not one for PSU. Belton, Zwinak, and Lynch will find their footing, the offensive line will continue to progress, and a very talented, if not deep, defense will keep Penn State in most games. But holding it all together is a 19 year old from Virginia. It's going to be fun to see what the next 11 games this year bring.
Three Random, Probably Completely Useless Thoughts
1. This is a very good defense, with one big question to answer: who plays the corner opposite Jordan Lucas? The defensive line is very, very good. Deion Barnes, C.J. Olaniyan, and Anthony Zettel really stuck out to me, but they were in the backfield all day, and the rushing totals for UCF speak volumes. I thought Nyeem Wartman looked much more comfortable at linebacker, and the rest of that group was very solid. But if there is one glaring weakness, it's the #2 cornerback. Da'Quan Davis made several very good plays, but there were also a couple head scratchers (the bomb to set up UCF's 1st score, and their 2nd touchdown pass). Trevor Williams was beat on the play to set up the go-ahead score for the Knights. I think both of those guys improve, and I suspect we will see Grant Haley getting more time as well.
2. Remember that time we were worried about our receivers after Allen Robinson? Yeah, me neither. DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis were very good, and I was impressed with Chris Godwin as well. Add in the tight ends, and I don't think there is any reason to worry about who is catching Hack's passes.
3. I saw enough positives from the offensive line to give me some hope. For one, I am not sure PSU will face many defenses as good as what they saw Saturday. The two that they will (Ohio State and Sparty) don't come until later in the year. Presumably things will get more consistent up front by then. Remember, two years ago it took a couple of games for the ground game to get on track.
Bounus: I would be remiss in not mentioning Sam Ficken (aka Mr. Automatic). In the last 2 years, there isn't a single player that has faced more scrutiny. I cannot say how great I feel for him after hitting the game winner yesterday. $am Ficken, indeed.