It’s been a long time coming.
After the ring leaders of the Penn State 2013 recruiting class, Adam Breneman and Christian Hackenberg remained loyal to the Penn State program, it was only a matter of time before they started making a consistent impact on the field.
Breneman, the highly sought after tight end, tasted the end zone for the first time on an eight-yard run after a catch in the flat. He was upended a few yards from the end zone, but the Mechanicsburg native said after the game he knew he had to get in.
“It feels good. I went over to Hack right after that play and said, ‘We’ve sure been through a lot together,’ ” Breneman said. “It’s been a long road and it’s definitely exciting for me.”
Coming off an ACL tear prior to his senior year at Cedar Cliff High School, Breneman enrolled early at Penn State in the spring semester and experienced a full recovery by the start of this season.
Unlike Hackenberg, he was eased into coach Bill O’Brien’s offense, used primarily in blocking situations early in the season. But Breneman has found himself targeted in passing situations more often recently — having two catches each of the last three games — a product of O’Brien gaining more trust in him, he said.
“I think just getting adjusted to the life of an in-season college football player, dealing with everything off the field and on the field,” Breneman said when asked about his progression within the team. “And definitely practicing better.”
Breneman said his great relationship with Hackenberg off the field has only helped the two freshmen, whom O’Brien has described as mature for their age on countless occasions.
They are the only two true freshmen the second-year coach has made available to the media this year. O’Brien knows Hackenberg and Breneman could dominate Penn State headlines for years to come, so why not expose the two media-savvy 18-year-olds to reporters a little earlier than most?
And if the Hackenberg-Breneman connection on Saturday was any indication of things to come for the Penn State program, both players will likely be the center of attention for many Penn State postgame interviews to come.
Day to remember
Offense: TE Adam Breneman
You guessed it, the tight end will likely look back favorably on the game of his first career touchdown catch. He had two catches for just 22 yards on the day, but the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder continues to show his soft hands to be a viable destination for Hackenberg on any given play.
Defense: DB Jordan Lucas
The once-criticized corner has come a long way to being Penn State’s top pass defender. The sophomore reinforced his innate ability to disrupt pass attempts, having a second-quarter interception that helped to bring momentum back onto the Nittany Lions’ side.
Day to forget:
Offense: WR Brandon Felder
The senior wide receiver had another quiet day, recording zero receptions for the second game in a row, and sophomore Eugene Lewis got most of the playing time over him. This appears to be a part of a conscious effort by O’Brien to put younger players more in the rotation, with the season winding down.
Defense: Safety corps
Though Lucas shined, some of his defensive back mates didn’t fare so favorably against the Boilermakers. Malcolm Willis and Ryan Keiser were not always in position to cover over top of the corners, and this was a major factor in the Lions’ allowing some big plays in the Purdue passing game.
Wide receiver Allen Robinson broke the Penn State single-season receptions record with his eight catches against Purdue. The outing brings him to 81 catches in 2013, helping him to break his own record from 2012 when he caught 77 balls.
Did you notice?
Zach Zwinak’s three rushing touchdown day marked the fourth time the running back has registered multiple scores in a game this season. He became the 16th player in Penn State history to surpass the 10 rushing touchdown mark in a season as he now has 12 this season.
“We don’t have one problem with morale, and never have since I walked in the door,” coach Bill O’Brien said after the team’s sixth win of the season. “We use the word morale, just throw it out there like it’s a cheeseburger.”
John Stuetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (814) 865-1828. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnStuetz_PSU.