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Christian Hackenberg: A Season in Review - Week 3 vs UCF

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In-depth review of the Freshman's third start, vs the eventual Fiesta Bowl-winning UCF Knights.

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Part 3 of the 12 part series, summarizing Christian Hackenberg's Freshman season. This article consists of adjusted stats, an overall game recap, video of every pass/run by the Freshman, and an overall review.

Two starts into his career, Christian Hackenberg and his Penn State Nittany Lions were 2-0, and off to a good start. The teams week 3 game was vs the University of Central Florida Knights, and the game had a good amount of hype leading in from the media and fans. Coach O'Brien would be coaching against Coach O'Leary, whom were good friends; also, the game featured to two extremely talented Quarterbacks, Christian Hackenberg and eventual 3rd Overall Pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Blake Bortles. Penn State entered the game a 3 point favorite, so a tightly contested battle was expected. Following Hackenberg's first two starts, vs Syracuse and EMU (follow the links for the previous two breakdowns of his games), he was expected to take another step forward vs the 2-0 Knights.

Week 3 vs. Central Florida


Thrown to

Hits (Left)

Misses (Left)

Hits (Mid)

Misses (Mid)

Hits (Right)

Misses (Right)

>20 Yds

0

0

1

1

0

0

10-20 Yds

3

0

2

2

1

0

0-10 Yds

2

1

3

0

7

0

2

0

0

0

3

1

Adjusted Stats: 24/28. 1 Td, no INT. 7/8 (88%) to Left, 6/8 (75%) to Middle, 11/12 (92%) to Right.

1 TD to 10-20 Yards Left (Redzone Fade to Allen Robinson).

Game Review: The game begins with with the ball in UCF's possession, and after some passes from Blake Bortles and some runs from Storm Johnson (both now of the Jacksonville Jaguars), the Knights went up 7-0 just a few plays into the game. Christian  Hackenberg took over with the first Quarter almost half of the way over.

The first drive of the game began much like the Syracuse game. The passing game started off with a designed screen to Richie Anderson, then two short passes to pick up first downs. Once the running game opened up, per usual, the offense went with the Play-Action, resulting in a big pickup by Allen Robinson, who like Bortles and Johnson, is also a Jaguar now.

On the next drive, after a Zwinak rushing TD on the last, the offense runs the ball and utilizes PA to begin the drive. Unfortunately, as is the case early in many games for Christian, he doesn't use his lower body in his throws, which results in him sailing inaccurate balls...he whiffs on a wide open Richie Anderson downfield as a result of these lazy lower body mechanics. Following the inaccurate ball the offense continues downfield, throwing to Richie Anderson, with his third catch of significant yardage in the game, and throwing to Geno Lewis, who should be the #1 WR in 2014. However, the drive ends after Kyle Carter drops a contested ball on third down. The next drive is also a failure as two Robinson catches result in just 7 yards, and a 3 and Out comes from it.

The Freshman begins the next drive down by 14 to the Bortles led Knights, and the drive starts with an uncatchable pass is the 10-20 Left range. The next pass was a smooth, crisp completion between A-rob and Hack which shows the skill that both possess.

The following pass is a screen to the right to Robinson for 20+ Yards, which could have gone for a TD had he not hesitated. The drive ends in a Field Goal from $am Ficken after series of runs.

Hackenberg's next pass is on a cross to the middle to Kyle Carter, who rumbles for a first down after breaking a flimsy tackle. Now on the UCF side of the field, Hackenberg hits Carter again for 8 yards to the right side. Unfortunately, with some momentum building, the drive ends after UCF stops the Penn State running game.

To start the 3rd, Hack hits Robinson on a comeback route to the left for an easy first down to get the drive moving. On this throw you can also see Hackenberg's pure arm strength, as he barely gets any leg power or trunk twist into this throw...he basically makes throw semi-off balance because of shaky lower body mechanics; the ball was still highly accurate, so no real complaints.


On the next play, Hack blindly rolls into a DE on a PA Boot, but still manages to connect with his Tight End, moving to a 3rd and 2 on the next down. The third down play is a designed, quick one-step dropback to Allen Robinson. Hackenberg displays terrific anticipation on the pass, seeing as that as soon as A-Rob turned, the ball was there for him...BUT, again, he uses ZERO lower body push or trunk (hips) in his throw. The ball comes out hard and fast, but the mechanics are all wrong from the hips down...he was clearly trying to get the ball out fast, but mechanics can't be thrown out the window as a result. The drive ends shortly there after, and Penn State goes down 28-10 after a Central Florida Touchdown.

After a quick pass to Tight End across the middle, the offense moves forward, and takes a risk. Off a Play-Action pass with terrific blocking, Hackenberg is able to hit an open Allen Robinson way down field for a substantial game, off some awkward A-Rob route running.


After the big connection Zach Zwinak runs in for a score. Per usual, the next drive begins conservatively, but this time the ball is almost thrown to the defense on a screen; the ball is a contested catch, but no gain. The next pass, Hack scans the middle of the field, sits steady in the pocket, pumps, and then finally checks down to a wide open Zach Zwinak for a large gain and a first down...a very heady play by the Freshman. Fast forward to the the redzone after a series of PSU runs, the offense is in scoring position. Hackenberg tosses up a shaky ball to Allen Robinson on a fade, which is dropped after illegal defensive contact. Penn State scores a TD after a rushing TD on this drive to get the game within 7 points.

With 7 and change left to go in the game, Hackenberg gets the ball down 34-24. He starts by hitting his 6'7 target, Jesse James for a first down in the middle of the field on an easy throw. After another short pass, per usual, the offense gets a little more aggressive as the drive progresses. Hackenberg attacks downfield to his favorite target, but Allen Robinson is Literally tackled by his man while the ball is in the air, so PSU gets the automatic first down. Just under 4 minutes to go, and Hackenberg continues to attack downfield as Jesse James catches a pass in the middle of the field, getting PSU into scoring position, once again. After this, Hackenberg tosses the ball up perfectly to Allen again, this time for a tremendous leaping TD on the fade.


Unfortunately, the Blake Bortles led Knights would manage to drain out the remainder of the clock and escape the game with a 34-31 victory, giving Penn State their first loss. UCF moved to 3-0 with this game, and would eventually win the 2013 Fiesta Bowl with only 1 loss on their record to South Carolina. Penn State with the loss fell to 2-1.

Overall: Though the game resulted in a loss, Hackenberg played an Exceptional game of football, debatably his best of the year. He only had 4 passes out of 28 that were not catchable for his receivers, resulting in his highest adjusted accuracy performance of the year at 24/28. Also, unlike in the first two games, where Hackenberg showed a heavy reliance upon Allen Robinson, in this game Hack spread the ball around much better. As a whole, this has to be seen as ,if not Christian's best game of the year, in the top 3 games he played. A spectacular performance by the Freshman, as was the case in the first two, and there really wasn't much more he could do himself...Penn State lost to the better team in Happy Happy Valley, and that was the UCF Knights.

The next installment of this series is Christian Hackenberg's Week 4 performance vs Kent State.