Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg has been sacked 37 times this season, which is by far the most in the Big Ten. So after Wednesdays practice, Nittany Lion coach James Franklin did his best to try to protect the sophomore passer.
When a reporter suggested Hackenberg has developed some bad habits this year, Franklin took exception.
I dont agree with you, Franklin said. I think Christian has done some things that wed like to get corrected. Hes made a few choices that I think hed like to have back. His footwork has not been what hed like it to be at times.
But I would not describe it that way youve described it, the coach added. What we see in practice every single day and the more consistent we get up front I dont really view it that way.
Hackenberg had a record-setting freshman season, passing for 2,955 yards, 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Through 10 games this fall, he has thrown for 2,318 yards, which ranks third in the Big Ten. But his TD-to-interception ration of 7-to-14 is way off his pace of 2013.
A big part of that has had to do with a rebuilt offensive line that has struggled in all phases of the game, and was not at full strength until last weeks 30-13 win over Temple. But even in that game, Hackenberg was not sharp, hitting on only 12 of 26 passes for two picks and no TDs.
However, Franklin said he did not believe the quarterbacks issues stemmed from bad habits.
“I think a habit is habitual, it’s an issue that happens over and over again. I don’t see that. I see there’s times obviously when the pressure has been in his face, and he hasn’t been able to follow through the way he would like to follow through.”
I think a habit is habitual, its an issue that happens over and over again, he said. I dont see that. I see theres times obviously when the pressure has been in his face, and he hasnt been able to follow through the way he would like to follow through.
Like all quarterbacks, I think theres a couple decisions hed like to have back and wed like to have back, he added. Theres been a couple times where his footwork has been affected.
Franklin, who professes to reading everything written about his team, knows Hackenberg has been the target of fan scrutiny, or what the coach calls noise. He said it comes with the territory at a place like Penn State.
I try to shield all of our players from as much of the noise as I possibly can, Franklin said. But its hard to do now with social media. When you have a passionate fan base and over 600,000 living alumni like we do, when youre winning and playing well theres nothing better. When you lose a game or dont play as well as youd like, people can be tough.
Hackenberg has more than 43,000 Twitter followers, and Franklin said fans who follow the QB and other PSU players are not afraid to tweet their displeasure over poor performances.
Theyve got to be careful, theyve got to have their guard up, Franklin said. Its a shame that people reach out and have contact with players like that. But it happens, and its not gonna change.
When it happens, the coach said Hackenbergs strategy should be to do some blocking of his own as in hiding comments from the critics.
"Im a huge blocker, and I want them to do the same thing, the coach said. You get anything negative on Twitter, do not respond, and once you start reading it and its negative, dont keep reading it.
Just block, he added. Theyre welcome to have their opinion. Youre welcome to block em.