Penn State football: Hackenberg picking up on Nittany Lions’ offense easily

tjohnson@centredaily.comSeptember 5, 2013 

— A packet of papers and a group of wide receivers young and old was what Christian Hackenberg had at his disposal in June to study the Penn State offense and implement his limited knowledge of it.

He had limited time with training camp just around the corner. With his first organized team snap weeks away, Hackenberg had to glance down at his sheets — prepared for him and fellow quarterback Tyler Ferguson by Bill O’Brien and quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher as a starting point, a few plays to get their feet wet — before calling each play.

Now, only a quick glance at his wristband will do. Hackenberg seems to have a handle on a good portion of O’Brien’s vast playbook.

“After a couple of weeks of training camp you really saw his confidence grow,” sophomore wide receiver Matt Zanellato said.

That confidence turned into a start against Syracuse when Hackenberg joined Wally Richardson and Rob Bolden as 18-year-old true freshmen to start games for Penn State.

With his start at MetLife Stadium, Hackenberg earned the distinction of being the only one of the three to make his debut on the road.

“The kid was ready,” senior center Ty Howle said.

While Howle spent the afternoon snapping the ball to Hackenberg, O’Brien spent his day relaying calls in to him and taking him aside on the sideline. It was a learning experience for both player and coach as it was the first time each had worked with the other on a game day.

And O’Brien took it easy on his freshman quarterback right out of the gate. He opted to call short, high-percentage passes to build Hackenberg’s confidence early on. Eleven of Hackenberg’s first 18 throws were short tosses — to wideouts or tight ends on quick, short out patterns or to receivers on screens.

Two plays into the game, Hackenberg worked without the benefit of a huddle in Penn State’s hurry-up, NASCAR offense. Although the Nittany Lions eventually went away from it, Hackenberg’s teammates were receptive to his directions in hurry-up scenarios.

“He did a great job. Especially for a true freshman,” Zanellato said. “He seemed very comfortable, just overall handling of the offense, the tempo that we like to run with, overall, the complete operation of the offense. I think he did a great job.”

He’ll undoubtedly be asked to do more as the season progresses.

O’Brien said he spent a lot of time with Hackenberg on Monday breaking down film of his mistakes — mainly the two interceptions he threw.

“It’s the first time you’ve coached them in a game, not the first time you’ve coached them, but going from the Lasch practice fields to MetLife Stadium is a pretty big jump,” O’Brien said. “So we’re figuring each other out. Now he knows what I’m like on game day and I know what he’s like. It’s going to be interesting going forward. He’s a bright kid, he’s been able to pick up so many different things in our offense, so it’s more me doing a better job with him than him doing a better job, to be honest with you.”

Obeng prepared to be used wherever, whenever

As of Wednesday, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong had only practiced at safety and linebacker.

That doesn’t mean he won’t get looks elsewhere on the field, specifically on offense. O’Brien said he planned to run the senior with the fullbacks at Wednesday’s practice and possibly audition him in other roles as the week moves on.

“He’s one of our guys who is a multi-role guy,” O’Brien said. “(Thursday) he might practice with the tight ends, and Friday maybe special teams. I’m being serious. We have a lot of guys like that. He’s a multi-purpose guy, and he understands that and he will fill those roles admirably.”

Obeng-Agyapong did so against the Orange when he served as the defense’s primary blitzer. He blitzed five times in the first half and was the only Nittany Lion to do so.

He finished with a monster stat line — eight tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, an interception and a sack.

But although Penn State lost a tight end when Matt Lehman went down with a season-ending knee injury, Obeng-Agyapong said he doesn’t think he’ll be lining up at tight end in a game anytime soon.

“I can still see myself (doing more),” Obeng-Agyapong said. “In high school I played a little receiver, running back, so tight end is a little different but I can probably see myself there. But I don’t think that will be a possibility, honestly.”

New scoreboards for next season

Penn State originally planned to replace the scoreboards in the north and south end zones at Beaver Stadium in time for this season, but the project was put on hold and the renovations will begin following the end of this season.

Associate Athletic Director for Facilities and Operations Mark Bodenschatz confirmed the 6.8 million dollar renovations will be completed in time for the 2014 season. The new scoreboards will feature high definition displays and will also include new sound systems.

The new scoreboards will replace the old two-display setup that is “at the end of its useful life,” Bodenschatz said. The new HD displays are expected to be 115 feet wide by 36 feet-11 inches tall and will feature a Penn State logo above the scoreboard according to university documents.

Penn State announced in 2011 that the Kansas City, Mo. architecture firm Populous would handle the scoreboard renovations. Populous previously worked on expansions to Beaver Stadium in 2001. Clair Brothers Audio Systems Inc. of Manheim, Pa. will handle the sound system improvements.

Clair Brothers Audio Systems Inc. installed the stadium’s current sound system.

Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @bytravisjohnson.

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