Penn State's O'Brien encouraged by Hackenberg

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The odds weren't all against Penn State in its season opener against Syracuse in MetLife Stadium -- the Nittany Lions were, after all, an eight-point favorite going into the game -- but there was plenty for head coach Bill O'Brien to be nervous about.
"We went into that game with a true freshman quarterback," O'Brien said Tuesday. "It was 104 degrees on the field throughout. We didn't have our best wide receiver for the first half. We did it with 65 scholarship players."
The freshman quarterback, Christian Hackenberg, threw two interceptions, one of which led directly to a Syracuse touchdown. The Nittany Lions also lost a pair of fumbles. Two of the 65 scholarship players -- starters Matt Lehman and Mike Hull -- missed the majority of the game with early injuries. A Penn State team that had averaged 145 rushing yards per game the season before mustered 57 yards on 38 carries against Syracuse.
And yet, Penn State won, overcoming the turnovers and an incredibly terrible performance on third downs -- 1 of 16 -- to defeat the Orange 23-17 and go to 1-0 on the season.
"Winning is the most important thing," O'Brien said. "It's like salt water -- it cures everything."
The Nittany Lions' next opponent, Eastern Michigan, needed a 21-point comeback over the final 20 minutes of the game to defeat Howard 34-24 last week.
The Eagles, who were 2-10 last season, shouldn't pose much of a threat to the Nittany Lions in their first home game of the season. But there is still plenty of work for O'Brien in practice this week.
He must take care of little details -- the fact that the Syracuse defense was all over Hackenberg's cadence -- as well as big issues, like how to get the running game going and what third-down play calls will put Hackenberg in the best spots.
"We gotta call the plays better, design the plays better, get the players to go out and execute better," O'Brien said. "We're going to work really hard on that this week."
Notes: Hackenberg admittedly made mistakes in his first collegiate game but for the most part played brilliantly, completing 71 percent of his passes for 278 yards and a pair of touchdown passes of 50-plus yards. He'll look to continue his progression against a suspect Eastern Michigan defense this week. ... Safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong saw time in the defensive backfield and at linebacker in relief of an injured Mike Hull against Syracuse, racking up eight tackles and adding an interception, a fumble recovery and a sack. The hard-hitting senior will likely line up at multiple positions throughout the season and gives the Nittany Lions a big playmaker on defense. ... Wide receiver Allen Robinson did not play in the first half of the season opener for disciplinary reasons but caught seven passes for 133 yards and a touchdown in the second half, displaying the ball skills and speed that made him the Big Ten's top receiver in 2012. The attention he'll command from secondaries this season should open things up for the rest of Penn State's offensive players. ... Linebacker Glenn Carson is an every-down player for the Nittany Lions after coming off the field on third-down and long passing situations during his first two seasons as a starter. Carson has improved his coverage skills and had six tackles and two pass breakups in Penn State's first game.