He’s already won numerous awards in his brief college career and his likeness has been plastered across newspaper pages and broadcast on evening news programs for weeks now.
True freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg is still keeping a low profile.
It’s getting more challenging to do so.
Now people in and around State College are recognizing him as the executor of “The Drive,” a last-minute, five-play jaunt down the Beaver Stadium grass that culminated in Hackenberg’s one-yard run that helped force overtime in Penn State’s memorable 43-40 win over the Wolverines on Saturday.
“Watching it on film, it gave me a lot of things to learn from,” Hackenberg said. “It gave me a bigger, different view on it I guess you could say. In the heat of the moment I didn’t really understand how everything transpired.”
With no timeouts and backed up on his team’s own 20-yard line, Hackenberg — who’s earned a reputation as an unflappable quarterback despite his youth — was as cool as ever. To hear him tell it, he let his receivers do most of the work and he relied on his running backs and linemen to give him time to distribute the football.
Fifty seconds. Fourteen yards to Allen Robinson who tiptoed along the sideline to stop the clock. Twenty-nine yards into heavy coverage to Brandon Felder who outleapt a defender and hauled in another first down catch that stopped the clock momentarily before a Hackenberg spike stopped it.
Then, the play — a 36-yard jump ball to Robinson who had only one defender to beat at the goal line.
“I knew that if I put it up to a spot where he could catch it he had a good chance at winning the one-on-one battle with his defender,” Hackenberg said. “So in the heat of the moment I don’t really remember anything. I just remember releasing the ball and just watching him go up and catch it which was a huge relief for me. It was sort of crazy in the moment.”
Hackenberg is learning more and more each week. He spends portions of every Thursday and Friday with head coach Bill O’Brien and quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher who break down film with him and go over the game plan for the upcoming game.
Before he led Penn State down the field with less than a minute to go against the Wolverines, Hackenberg met with O’Brien briefly on the sideline.
“We went over the situation we were in, we had no timeouts. We needed a touchdown,” O’Brien said. “We talked about the plays, the coverages we expect.”
And O’Brien relayed a message similar to the one he preaches throughout each week — how crucial it is to be able to run a two-minute offense. In this case, Hackenberg was expected to lead a 50-second offense.
Penn State spends portions of its practices every day on the two-minute offense. With music or simulated crowd noise blaring, Hackenberg has been leading drives similar to the one he led against Michigan since training camp.
“I feel real comfortable. I feel like the team is really comfortable with it, practicing it definitely helps,” Hackenberg said. “In the Indiana game we ran it in some points where it wasn’t really a two-minute situation. We just wanted to speed the tempo up.”
Against Michigan, Penn State had no choice.
And Hackenberg has already learned that off-field focus is critical to success. He’s an avid hunter and fisherman but admits it’s been tough to do any of that without a car in State College. So he’s played more golf lately. His best nine-hole round? Hackenberg shot a 39 not long ago.
He’s not about to get cocky over that, either.
“I don’t know how I did it,” Hackenberg said. “I was on fire. That was pretty wild.”