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BIG TEN REPORT: QB Christian Hackenberg gives Penn State hope for future

Penn State's Christian Hackenberg completed 22 31 passes for 278 yards two touchdowns his collegiate debut.  |  AP

Penn State's Christian Hackenberg completed 22 of 31 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns in his collegiate debut. | AP

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Updated: October 2, 2013 6:50AM



Christian Hackenberg wasn’t supposed to happen at Penn State. At least not for a while.

When the NCAA levied unprecedented sanctions on the university in 2012 — and it would have been fine if they were worse — in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, it was a punishment intended not only as a statement of intolerance, but one used to sterilize the program.

The waiver of transfer rules for those with the program before the sanctions and the four-year bowl ban were aimed at making the program bereft of talent and undesirable to top recruits. Penn State football was rightfully set up to struggle for some time.

But this offseason, in walked Hackenberg, the most celebrated quarterback to come to the Big Ten since Terrelle Pryor. Hackenberg, a true freshman, started Saturday in the Nittany Lions’ 23-17 victory over Syracuse at Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Hackenberg could have gone anywhere. He chose Penn State.

“[The recruitment of Hackenberg] means a lot to our staff,” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said last week when addressing his latest recruiting class. “Our staff did a great job of recruiting these guys. It means a lot to Penn State. I think it shows the student body here, the alums, the faculty, that Penn State is a fantastic place, and a horrible thing happened here. But Penn State is just a fantastic place.”

After a slow start, Hackenberg rallied to have a serviceable performance, completing 22 of 31 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns.

But more significant than Hackenberg’s statistics or Penn State’s win was that — like it or not — he ushered in a new era of Nittany Lions football. Recruits will watch the talented Hackenberg this season and follow, particularly now that commits will have a chance to play in the postseason when the bowl ban ends in three years.

On Saturday, Hackenberg became only the third freshman quarterback to start the opener for Penn State since 1910. He showed flashes of the big-play ability of an elite quarterback and the potential of the program.

It’s an indication that Penn State football will return to prominence much faster than anyone could have imagined. Or at least quicker than the NCAA had intended.

WEEK 1 STARS

• LB/S Jairus Jones, Michigan State

The versatile senior had two interceptions for a Spartans defense that is considered the best in the conference, though it hasn’t been known for forcing turnovers.

• RB Jordan Hall, Ohio State

With Carlos Hyde suspended for at least three games, the Buckeyes senior showed there won’t be much of a drop-off as long as he’s carrying the ball. Hall ran 21 times for 159 yards and two touchdowns.

• WR Allen Robinson, Penn State

The junior, who was suspended by the team for the first half, helped quarterback Christian Hackenberg have a solid debut, catching seven passes for 133 yards and one touchdown.

BUCKEYE ROADBLOCK

Wisconsin was expected to trounce a porous UMass team in Madison. But the quality of competition shouldn’t discount the performance of the Badgers’ defense in the 45-0 victory.

The unit looked downright scary and might be Wisconsin’s only hope in stopping Ohio State’s seemingly easy run to the Big Ten title.

The Badgers kept the Minutemen out of the red zone all game and just once allowed them close enough to attempt a field goal (47 yards). UMass’ only first-down play of more than eight yards came as a result of a personal foul.

SPLIT DECISION

Michigan senior and incumbent starting running back Fitzgerald Toussaint spent the offseason battling highly regarded freshman Derrick Green. The Wolverines’ 59-9 victory over Central Michigan did little to differentiate the two. Toussaint carried 14 times for 57 yards and two touchdowns, Green 11 for 58 and one touchdown. It could be an indication that coach Brady Hoke favors splitting the carries.

BY THE NUMBERS

3 — Wisconsin running backs who rushed for over 100 yards. Melvin Gordon paced the Badgers with 13 carries for 144 yards, James White had 143 yards on 11 carries and freshman Corey Clement had 101 yards on 16 carries. Each scored a touchdown.

94 — Penalty yards against Ohio State on nine penalties, including a personal foul that set up Buffalo’s first touchdown and allowed the Bulls to get back in the game.

73 — Points Indiana scored against Indiana State on Thursday night, a Memorial Stadium record.



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