Hackenberg has room for improvement, O'Brien says

Christian Hackenberg passing against Syracuse. "It's one game. He made some nice throws, he made some mistakes," coach Bill O'Brien said.
Christian Hackenberg passing against Syracuse. "It's one game. He made some nice throws, he made some mistakes," coach Bill O'Brien said. (JASON PLOTKIN / York Daily Record)
Posted: September 03, 2013

Bill O'Brien is cautioning Nittany Nation not to go batty over freshman Christian Hackenberg after only one win.

Hackenberg made an impressive debut Saturday for Penn State, going 22 of 31 for 278 yards in a 23-17 victory over Syracuse at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. You can tell that O'Brien is loving the chance of being able to coach the young Virginian every day for the next three months and beyond.

But hey, it's one game, and the Penn State coach said plenty of work needs to be done.

"He's only 18, he's got a tremendous future," O'Brien said after Saturday's game. "But we're not ready to waltz him into the College Football Hall of Fame, certainly not the NFL Hall of Fame.

"Look, he's a talented guy, he's got a long way to go. It's one game. He made some nice throws, he made some mistakes. I made some bad play calls and put him in bad situations. We'll just have to keep learning from each other. He's a fun guy to coach."

It's evident O'Brien has built a nice relationship with Hackenberg since recruiting him out of Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy. He was trusting enough to allow the kid - a freshman starting at quarterback in his first game on national television - to stand in front of about 50 inquiring reporters after the game, something that Joe Paterno never allowed.

Hackenberg handled himself well.

"It's a big change," he said. "I was definitely nervous. The guys really helped me through that. But once the game starts, at the end of the day, it's just football.

"It's been a big transition. I was playing [high school] baseball a little while ago. But I just tried to come in here and immerse myself, doing what I can to reach my potential."

Hackenberg was asked about the fact that he is leading a unit of much older players. Four members of his starting offensive line are 22 years old.

"It's a big adjustment," he said. "I'm only 18 years old and some of these guys are 20, 22. So just being able to talk with them is great. They look at me and I look at them with the same respect."

O'Brien disclosed that he had reached a decision on a starter between Hackenberg and sophomore Tyler Ferguson two weeks ago. He chided reporters for suggesting he was indecisive just because he hadn't revealed his choice publicly.

The coach said the battle was a close one.

Hackenberg "made his share of mistakes. They both did," he said. "I'd say it was pretty even. I wouldn't say one guy blew the other guy out of the water. I think it was fairly even. I had to make the decision for the team."

The decision might appear to be a good one. But as O'Brien says, there's plenty of time left in the season.


Contact Joe Juliano at jjuliano@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @JoeJulesInq

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