Penn State quarterback Hackenberg fighting through some struggles |
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Chris Adamski
Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg (14) walks off the field after throwing a first-quarter interception to Ohio State defensive back Vonn Bell (11) on Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014, in University Park.

His passing efficiency rating suggests Christian Hackenberg has been one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the country.

Though some reasons for his struggles are out of his control, the Penn State sophomore quarterback has been quick to refute any justification for a 112.4 rating that ranks 100th in the FBS.

To those pointing out his supporting cast lacks experience and depth, Hackenberg said: “It’s what I signed up for.”

To those suggesting he has not had adequate protection, Hackenberg said: “You’ve just got to keep fighting through it. That’s part of the deal.”

To those saying too much has been expected of the former five-star recruit to carry a sanctions-saddled roster, Hackenberg said: “There’s never too much of an expectation. … I need to do my job.”

There are 113 quarterbacks who qualify for the NCAA passer efficiency rating leaders. Only 13 rank lower than Hackenberg. Only four quarterbacks have started every game for their team and own a worse passer efficiency rating then Hackenberg.

The frustration is showing in Hackenberg’s body language during games. Cameras have caught him having animated discussions with coaches.

On Saturday, after the Nittany Lions’ fourth straight loss, Hackenberg dismissed those discussions as “just us being competitive” and said of offensive coordinator John Donovan and quarterback coach Ricky Rahne, “I trust both those guys with my life.”

Coach James Franklin acknowledged Hackenberg’s public displays of frustration have “been a discussion point.” Franklin, who sat down with Hackenberg on Monday, added he thought attention on the sideline emotion is getting blown out of proportion because of the losing streak and Hackenberg’s general field demeanor.

“There is some frustration that is showing at times,” Franklin said. “But he’s an animated guy who’s passionate about what we’re doing.”

Hackenberg’s season is not short on highlights.

He is the Big Ten passing yardage leader and on his way to rewriting the quarterback section of the PSU record book. There also were clutch winning drives against Central Florida and Rutgers.

But Hackenberg’s statistical troubles extend beyond efficiency.

He’s 82nd in yards per completion (11.14) and has thrown at least one interception in every full game in which he has played this season.

During the Lions’ losing streak, Hackenberg has completed 54.8 percent of his passes for 194.3 yards per game with three touchdowns and five interceptions — a 99.9 efficiency rating that would be 111th nationally.

Hackenberg has more than once suggested he misses the tutelage of Bill O’Brien, who left for the Houston Texans. Hackenberg’s strongest words were to Sports Illustrated: “Coach Franklin’s system is more of a college system. Coach O’Brien’s system was upper-level, as pro as they get. I had free reign at the line of scrimmage.”

Franklin concedes the past three years have been a difficult transition for Hackenberg, who withstood public pressure in sticking with a high-profile commitment to PSU despite NCAA sanctions.

“But I think we’re in a really good place,” Franklin said after his meeting with Hackenberg. “I think he’s handling everything well, considering he’s a 19-year-old true sophomore with a lot of external things going on. I’m pleased with him and know he’s going to play really well on Saturday.”

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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