OK, Penn State fans.
Try to remember what you were thinking a year ago about this time.
We know you can, but let’s jog the memory.
You had just watched the Nittany Lions play on a cold Saturday after Thanksgiving in Madison, Wis.
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And you had to be pretty happy having seen the Nittany Lions stun the Badgers 31-24.
Here’s the big question:
How did you feel about your quarterback?
You had just watched freshman Christian Hackenberg carve up the Wisconsin defense by completing 21 of 30 passes for 339 yards. Four of those tosses went for scores.
We’re betting you felt pretty favorably about him.
Heck, we in the media were already calling him potentially the best passer in school history.
He had that swagger and confidence he could fire a football into any crevice and 20 times his tosses resulted in scores last season.
The future looked so bright.
You had to be pretty optimistic about what No. 14 could do?
Now how do you feel?
Some of you are calling for Hackenberg to be benched.
Even if you’re not willing to go that far, it’s likely your confidence in him is shot heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale with Michigan State at Beaver Stadium.
How did we get from one end of the spectrum to the other?
This season certainly didn’t start that way.
Hackenberg threw for 454 yards and led a late scoring drive to pull out a 26-24 triumph over Central Florida in Ireland, but since that season opener it’s been a struggle.
Hackenberg enters Saturday’s final regular-season game, a shell of that cocky (and I mean that in a good way) quarterback who could throw the ball with unabashed confidence. He has 14 interceptions and just eight touchdowns (remember he had four last year against the Badgers).
He’s coming off his worst outing, an 8-for-16 afternoon in an embarrassing 16-14 loss to a horrible Illinois squad. Not even a razzle-dazzle play at the end could lift Hackenberg above 100 yards for the game. He finished with 93.
And what was worse, it seemed that offensive coordinator John Donovan lost confidence in him as Hackenberg attempted just five passes over the final 30 minutes.
That is a football staff trying not to lose, rather than trying to bury an inferior opponent.
A lot of the blame for Hackenberg’s rough season has been placed on the offensive line, and certainly that has been a major impact in two areas.
Last season, the running game took some pressure off of Hackenberg. Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton combined for nearly 1,800 yards on the ground.
This season Penn State’s top two rushers Akeel Lynch and Belton have combined for 1,067 heading into the clash with the Spartans.
Hackenberg has been under siege, having been sacked 38 times this season. He’s become noticeably gun-shy in the pocket.
Receivers haven’t been as open, probably a byproduct of Allen Robinson’s departure.
And certainly, Hackenberg hasn’t been as sharp. He’s missed open receivers repeatedly and his footwork has been poor.
But this thing goes beyond what is on the field.
It’s a system thing.
At Vanderbilt — where he was very successful — James Franklin had quarterbacks who were just as dangerous with their legs as their arms.
That is not Hackenberg, who thrived in Bill O’Brien’s pro-set offense.
Like Zwinak, a ground-pounder who was underused before an injury while on the kickoff team ended his season and career here, Hackenberg has been a square peg in a round hole.
It’s been obvious that neither fit the system.
Franklin had other options at running back.
He has none behind Hackenberg.
He chose to redshirt his second and third string quarterbacks — freshmen Trace McSorley and Michael O’Connor — leaving fourth-stringer D.J. Crook as Hackenberg’s backup.
In hockey parlance, Franklin can’t pull his goalie when he’s having a rough night. Hackenberg is one the field for the duration.
To Hackenberg’s credit, he’s kept it together pretty well for a 19-year-old facing as much adversity as he’s seen (other than some sideline yelling with Donovan in one game).
He’s faced the throng of media when he’s been brought out after games and has answered some tough questions candidly without throwing anyone else under the bus.
And remember, he came here without the promise of a bowl game when he could have gone a lot of other places.
How do you feel about your quarterback Nittany Nation?
Saturday’s decision against the Spartans and a bowl game probably won’t provide the answer.
A year can certainly make a difference.