Hackenberg’s Four TDs Power Penn State Over Indiana
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Christian Hackenberg may have expected to beat the worst defense in the Big Ten through the air as he faced Indiana, third-worst in the nation in pass defense, on Saturday. Penn State's quarterback, however, flashed dual threat capabilities, picking up two rushing touchdowns as Penn State beat Indiana 29-7 in the team’s final game of a five-game home stand.
With a battered offensive line the was missing the prescence of captain Angelo Mangiro and the return of a hobbling Andrew Nelson following a three-game absence, Hackenberg consistently faced a collapsing pocket, but he was decisive in going through his progressions and making the right reads.
“It’s really the same thing I’ve been talking about for four weeks, we were going to have to play a certain style over the next couple of weeks to allow our offensive line to mature," Hackenberg said.
True freshman Brandon Polk became the first Penn State receiver to score a rushing and receiving touchdown in the same season since Derrick Williams in 2008.
Hackenberg faked a jet sweep to Polk, whom continued to the opposite field on a wheel route and reeled in a pass for a 39-yard score to open the scoring midway through the first quarter.
"It gives the defense pause,” head coach James Franklin said of Polk’s ability to threaten the defense in various ways. “He’s got such speed and he’s so sudden with his movements that if you’re not sound, he’s going to get on the edge of you."
Penn State (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten) had its top two options in the backfield, Saquon Barkley and Akeel Lynch, on the mend for another week. Freshmen running backs Nick Scott and Mark Allen shared the load; taking eights carries apiece for a combined 102 yards.
Hackenberg finished 21-for-39 for 262 yards and two touchdowns through the air, in addition to 21 yards rushing and two more touchdowns on the ground.
“One week at a time, that’s been our mentality,” Hackenberg said, “Just building off everything we’ve been doing these past six weeks and getting better at it.”
After taking No. 1 Ohio State down to the wire last week, Indiana (4-2, 0-2 Big Ten) struggled to find success against a healthy Penn State defense.
Zander Diamont started at quarterback in place of injured Nate Sudfeld, but did not fare well against a Penn State defense that sacked him three times and held him to 90 passing yards.
Jason Cabinda anchored the defense again, recording nine tackle against the Hoosiers. He now has 46 on the year, which leads all Penn State defenders on the season. Austin Johnson and Carl Nassib were disruptive as usual along the defensive line as Johnson picked up nine tackles and a sack while Nassib forced two fumbles and made four tackles.
Kicker Joey Julius had a rough day, missing two extra point attempts and was subsequently benched in favor of Tyler Davis, who hit his first career attempt, a 30-yarder in the fourth quarter that pushed the lead to 29-7.
The Nittany Lions will face their toughest challenge all season next week, traveling to the Horseshoe for a Big Ten clash with No. 1 Ohio State, but Franklin will bask in the Indiana victory while he can.
“I want to enjoy today, I want to talk about today’s game,” he said when asked about the team’s readiness to face the Buckeyes. “I want to have three hours of sanity and tomorrow we’ll start talking about the next opponent."
Marley Paul is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @MPaulPSU