Blue White Illustrated

September 2023

Penn State Sports Magazine

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Page 59 of 67

6 0 S E P T E M B E R 2 0 2 3 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M 'CUSE CONTROL Christian Hackenberg's debut was the beginning of a consequential Nittany Lion career — and maybe something even bigger S ports are cyclical by nature, so there's no reason to read anything into the odd resonance between Penn State's upcoming opener against West Virginia and the first game of the 2013 season. Play enough games, face enough opponents, and coincidences like this are going to happen. A decade ago, the Nittany Li- ons opened their season against a long-neglected Eastern ri- val in a game that marked the starting debut of an untested five-star quarterback. P e r h a p s t h a t s c e n a r i o sounds familiar? If so, it's be- cause this year's Nittany Lions are renewing acquaintances with a long-neglected Eastern rival in a game that marks the starting debut of a largely un- tested five-star quarterback. The player in question is, of course, sophomore Drew Al- lar. The opponent is West Vir- ginia, a team Penn State hasn't played since 1992. When it takes on the Moun- taineers, PSU will be hoping to fare as well as it did at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Aug. 31, 2013. The quarterback that year was heralded Virginia prospect Christian Hackenberg, and the oppo- nent was Syracuse, a team Penn State had faced only twice since the start of the Big Ten era in 1993. Hackenberg had won an unusual competition for the starting job that August. None of the five quarterbacks on Penn State's roster had played a snap at the FBS level. None had even been at PSU the year before. Tyler Ferguson, a California native who had thrown for a school-record 2,614 yards in his lone junior college season at the College of the Sequoias, had arrived in January and came out of spring practice as the Lions' first-team quarterback. Ferguson was "a little bit ahead" of Hackenberg at the start of preseason practice, coach Bill O'Brien said on me- dia day. But O'Brien also cautioned re- porters that he had no predetermined deadline for making a final decision. "Just hold your horses," he said. "When we feel we have a guy who we think can start the game against Syra- cuse, we'll name that guy the starter." By mid-August, O'Brien felt as though he had his answer. But while he had pledged to pick a starter as quickly as possible, he hadn't pledged to make that decision public. No one outside of the Lasch Building knew for sure which quarterback was going to take the reins until Hackenberg trotted onto the field with the first-team offense before 61,202 fans in East Rutherford. In doing so, he became only the third true freshman in program history to start a season opener at quarterback, joining Shorty Miller (1910) and Rob Bolden (2010). 'He's A Very Poised Kid' O'Brien had withheld an- other piece of key information prior to the Syracuse game: Star receiver Allen Robinson would be sitting out the first half for undisclosed disciplin- ary reasons. A year earlier, Robinson had caught a school-record 77 passes for 1,013 yards. He was expected to be a crucial asset for whichever quarterback ended up winning the job, and his absence, even for just two quarters, was a potentially game-changing development. Sure enough, with a true freshman running the show and the reigning Big Ten Receiver of the Year absent, Penn State didn't do much on offense in the first half, managing only a pair of Sam Ficken field goals en route to a 6-3 lead. But then Robinson took the field for the second half, and the Nittany Lions' offense immediately sprang to life. M A T T H E R B | M A T T . H E R B @ O N 3 . C O M Hackenberg won Penn State's starting quarterback job in his first preseason camp, beat- ing out junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson. PHOTO BY STEVE MANUEL H I S T O R Y

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