MINNEAPOLIS — The transition from high school football to college is much different than the move from college to the pros.
When an 18-year-old arrives at his first collegiate practice, he’s not fully developed. He hasn’t been in intensive strength programs for very long and probably isn’t all that mature yet, physically or mentally.
Christian Hackenberg is an 18-year-old kid with a big arm, a sharp mind and a bright future ahead of him. But right now, as a true freshman, he’s not perfect. He’ll continue to grow with each completion, misfire, interception and touchdown.
He was 14-of-25 for 163 yards Saturday against Minnesota and fumbled on the two-yard line late in the fourth quarter with Penn State down two scores.
Despite his physical tools, Hackenberg isn’t 2012 Matt McGloin — a fifth-year senior familiar with his teammates and the program more so than a true freshman who arrived on campus in June. Hackenberg was tasked with leading a team with about 60 scholarship players, far from a perfect or ideal situation for an 18-year-old, as well.
Some fans of the program have been critical of Hackenberg at times. The offense isn’t as good as it was last year, they say.
Just be patient. He’s a pretty good quarterback on his way to being great.
“If you put a young quarterback under pressure and force him to make decisions without his first options, then we'll have a good chance of winning,” Minnesota acting coach Tracy Claeys said.
“He’s a good quarterback,” Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. “But it still comes down to he’s young. He’s a good quarterback and he’s going to do nothing but get better.”
If Hackenberg takes everything in stride — every road loss, every dropped pass, every three-and-out — he’ll become one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Right now, he ranks eighth in the Big Ten in passer rating.
Just be patient with Hackenberg. He’s not there yet, but he will be, and that’s part of growing up as a college quarterback.
Day to remember
Offense: RB Zach Zwinak
Zwinak had just 11 carries in Penn State’s last 10 quarters of football, but was running well Saturday, so O’Brien continued to call his number.
The redshirt junior finished with 150 yards on 26 carries and paced the Nittany Lions’ offense, which moved the ball but often couldn’t find the end zone.
Defense: DE C.J. Olaniyan
Olaniyan has been quietly disrupting backfields all season. He had 2.5 tackles for loss Saturday and now has 10 for the season, which ranks eighth in the Big Ten. He made six tackles against the Golden Gophers and has been a consistent producer for Penn State’s defense in 2013, ranking first in sacks with four and sixth in tackles with 40.
Day to forget
Offense: WR Brandon Felder
Felder had his chances to make plays with Minnesota double-teaming Allen Robinson on almost every play past midfield. But the senior dropped a few passes, most noticeably in the fourth quarter, and didn’t catch one all afternoon.
Defense: LB Mike Hull
Hull survived a scary-looking play in the first half when Minnesota fullback Mike Henry hit the linebacker low while he was engaged with a blocker. Hull, who dealt with a knee injury for most of the season, reentered the game shortly after and ended up totaling nine tackles. But the expression on his face after the play didn’t look promising.
Former Penn State linebacker and current Minnesota Viking Michael Mauti was on the sideline with his father, Rich, for the game Saturday. The fiery rookie didn’t say anything to the team before the game, but was noticeably amped-up at times during it.
Did you notice?
After the game, Minnesota players rushed to grab the Governor’s Bell trophy, which goes to the winner of Penn State and the Golden Gophers’ ‘rivalry’ game, and broke it as they hoisted it as a group. The wood that drapes the bell became disconnected from the base.
“Coach Kill means so much to us and he’s that guy that we can go to off the field when we have issues and everything. And to see him come back and you know how much he loves the game, he rallies behind us just as we rally behind him.” — Minnesota punter Peter Mortell on coach Jerry Kill, who has been absent from the team at times this season while dealing with epilepsy. Kill coached from the booth Saturday.
Steven Petrella can be reached at email@example.com or (814) 865-1828. Follow on Twitter at @steve_petrella.