Hackenberg will get the start at QB
By BRAD HURLEY
Can you remember the last time Penn State had a proven quarterback starting the first game of the season?
Can't remember can you?
That's because the Nittany Lions have not had a proven starter at the quarterback position lead the blue and white onto the field since 2009. That quarterback's name was Daryl Clark and by the time he finished his senior season he held five Penn State passing records.
Those records were eventually broken by last year's starter Matt McGloin, but McGloin was not proven coming into his senior season. McGloin prior to the 2012 season completed just 54.1 percent of his passes for 1,571 yards, eight touchdowns, and five interceptions the year before.
So, it's been four seasons since Penn State has had a legit proven quarterback start their opener, and of course in 2013 the story has not changed.
Sophomore Tyler Ferguson and highly-touted freshman Christian Hackenberg are the quarterbacks that have battled throughout camp for the starting bid. Neither of them has thrown a Division I pass.
Friday afternoon, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien finally announced that Hackenberg had won the competition and will start when the Nittany Lions hit the field on Saturday against Syracuse at 3:30 p.m. (ABC/ESPN 2).
Syracuse has the same problem as Penn State as it had a quaterback battle in camp. The Orange have yet to name a starting quarterback. Their candidates to start against the Nittany Lions are Oklahoma transfer Drew Anderson and Charley Loeb.
The fact that Syracuse has not named a starter makes game-planning defensively somewhat difficult.
"It's one of those things that's a little nerve racking going into the first game," said O'Brien. "You really don't know what to expect. You have to make sure that you cover all of your bases as best you can, but you can't stay in the office until 4:30 a.m. trying to block ghosts and scheme for things that you don't really know exist. You have to go out there in practice and get your guys to understand base defense, base offense, and how we're going to react if different things come up during the game."
One thing the Penn State defense will have to do is stop the Syracuse rushing attack. The Orange have two very good running backs in Jerome Smith (227-1,171 yards, 3 TD) and Prince-Tyson Gulley (158-830, 9 TD). Both backs average over five yards a carry last season, so it will be important for Penn State's defensive front to play well this afternoon.
Also, the Penn State secondary, which is slotted to be very good this season must keep an eye on wideout Jarrod West, who caught 43 balls for 588 yards and two scores ast season.
Offensively for Penn State, Hackenberg will need to command O'Brien's offense with confidence and limit mistakes. He must also distribute the ball effectively to all the weapons the Lions have on offense, especially getting the ball to 2012 BIG 10 Receiver of the Year Allen Robinson and their four talented tight ends.
Hackenberg must also be good in the run game and O'Brien may run the ball a lot on Saturday due to the inexperience at quarterback, which is fine because PSU has three of them. 1,000-yard rusher from a year ago Zach Zwinak, the elusive Bill Belton, and talented redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch who will all see playing time on Saturday.
Still, all eyes will be on the quarterback position come this afternoon and the play at that position could result in a win or loss for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State is currently an 8.5 favorite over Syracuse.
My pick is Penn State 35, Syracuse 21.