The something, in this case, was the Nittany Lions' 2014 season. With a rebuilt line, inexperienced receiving corps and new system in place, opponents figured out that the key to stopping the PSU offense was attacking Hackenberg. He was sacked 44 times, more than any other team in the Big Ten.
And yet Hackenberg capped the campaign with his best game of the year, throwing for 371 yards and four scores in State's Pinstripe Bowl win over Boston College.
Being put in extremely tough situations and preserving and basically bringing guys with you is what it was (about), because we were so young and so inexperienced, Hackenberg said in the squad room of Lasch Building Wednesday. It was a good experience for me. I've had guys upstairs -- Coach Franklin, Coach Donovan, Coach Rahne -- who've helped me with that. And that's been awesome.
That would be head coach James Franklin, offensive coordinator John Donovan and QBs coach Ricky Rahne, all of whom were in their first season with the Lions in 2014 after coming in from Vanderbilt. Though many wondered how Hackenberg got along with the new coaches --especially considering the tight relationship he had with former head coach Bill O'Brien -- the quarterback said it was his responsibility to adjust to the new staff.
That experience is what I'll take away, he said. Just being able to respond to adversity. Go from one system to another, still have some success and move on from there.
It's one of those things where it's applicable to every facet of life, he added. It's not just football. There's going to be changes. In corporate America, if you have a job, you might get a new boss. Whatever it is, the situation is always changing. I think it's just something that's able to help me all around. Not just in football.
Hackenberg also denied rumors that he had an issue with Donovan's offense, and said the greater issue was the lack of experience in so many key areas.
I was always pretty comfortable in it, he said. It was more so making sure as a unit we were more well-oiled and focused and doing what we needed to do. So it was more of a group effort for all of us -- my end included at times where I needed to make sure that I stepped up and was doing what I needed to do when I didn't.
There were so many moving parts and we were changing so many different things that the bases of what we were doing, everybody was pretty comfortable with, he added. But at the same time, there was always a tweak here and there based on the game plan for that week, so everything was fluid and there were a lot of moving parts. Now, being able to look back -- the coaching staff and all of us that played -- we saw what we needed to do, what we needed to work on, and now we have a more solid set of standards and what the rules are, the bases are.
Because of that, Franklin is allowing the offense to do more this spring.
He's comfortable and he's seen guys do it in games, Hackenberg said. So we can do more personnel-based plays in terms of trying to get someone the ball when they need to because they are really good in that certain situation. You see the evolution of our offense where we trust more guys and we're able to get those guys the ball and they're able to make plays in those situations.