Before the season began, head coach Bill O’Brien made the decision to give the true freshman and no. 1 pro-style prospect in the country, Christian Hackenberg, the nod at QB over JUCO transfer Tyler Ferguson. That decision, as if anyone should have been surprised given O’Brien’s pedigree for developing QBs, has certainly paid dividends. The true frosh has thrown for close to 1700 yards and 11 TDs, He does, however, have six interceptions and needs to develop better awareness with checking the ball down and not forcing the issue down the field, but that will come with time as part of the growing process. The thought of he and his head coach together for another two years, at the very least, has to be giving other teams in the Big Ten heartburn.
Rest of offense: B-
The Lions’ offense is averaging 33.3 points per game, which ranks 46th in college football, but there’s still some kinks they need to figure out. A little more stability in the run game would help. They currently rank 75th in rushing yardage as O’Brien, admittedly, is playing it game-by-game, giving the most carries to whomever is performing the best that day, which is generally either Zach Zwinak (393 yards) or Bill Belton (369 yards).
This is the one unit that I thought would play better than they have. As is usually the case with Penn State throughout the years, the linebacker group has performed well, but the secondary can use some heavy work. They were torched by UCF’s Blake Bortles for 288 yards and three touchdowns, and also had a rough outing in their blowout loss to Indiana when Nate Sudfeld totaled over 321 yards on the day.
For a team working with just 61 scholarship players, they’re doing more than most teams would which is a testament to not only the players on the field, but the wonderful coaching job O’Brien has done. This team also displayed incredible resiliency when they were able to bounce back from that letdown against Indiana by upsetting 18th-ranked Michigan last weekend. That never-say-die attitude always has Penn State in the running to pull off upsets such as that.
Offensive spotlight: WR Allen Robinson
Robinson continues to be one of the top receivers in all of the game, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t want the ball thrown in his direction when the game is on the line. You know, like last weekend, for instance:
Defensive spotlight: DT Daquan Jones
The front four of the Nittany Lions have played great, and the best of them all, by far, has been Jones. He’s racked up 31.5 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss (which leads the Big Ten) and two sacks. Success on the defensive side of the ball always starts with pressure up front, and Jones is one of the best in the Big Ten that you will find.