Penn State coach Bill O’Brien entered the Big Ten coaching ranks with quite a reputation as a quarterback developer ahead of him, coming from the New England Patriots and coaching Tom Brady, a player you may have heard of.
One of (if not) the biggest recruiting coups under O’Brien was the Lions nabbing prep quarterback Christian Hackenburg, the top drop-back passer as rated by most recruiting services. Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said in preparing for the Nittany Lions, he sees that Hackenburg is a perfect fit for O’Brien’s NFL-style attack.
“He’s a pro-style kind of old-school quarterback (who) makes good decisions, he’s a big strong-armed guy,” he said “You can tell he’s student of the game. I’ve been impressed with him so far.”
Papuchis said you wouldn’t peg Hackenburg as the true freshman that he is is when preparing if you didn’t already know.
“When you watch his film, nothing stands out as ‘hey that guy’s making freshman mistakes’ or ‘he looks like a true freshman.’ He looks like a guy that’s pretty seasoned and pretty polished in what he does,” Papuchis said.
–Papuchis also had praise for the multiple dimensions Penn State brings in the running game with backs Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak. Last season, the 240-pound bruiser in Zwinkak ran 21 times for 141 yards and a touchdown against Nebraska in Lincoln.
Papuchis said Penn State’s offensive won’t change much based on which back is in, but they’ll have to be mindful of defending two different styles of tailback.
“(Zwinak will) pound you,” Papuchis said. “If you let him get square at the line of scrimmage and get downhill on you, he’s a load.”
Belton, Papuchis said, is more of a shifty back who bounces outside and hits the edge well.
“When Belton comes in the game it’s kind of a change of pace,” he said. “They run the same plays, but he hits the holes a little different.”
-On the outside, Papuchis said Wednesday that the biggest thing senior wide receiver Allen Robinson brings to Penn State is consistency.
“Obviously we’ve got to be aware of where he is all the time and make sure we’re matched up correctly and taking care of him, because he’s half their passing game at least in terms of the numbers,” Papuchis said.
Robinson ranks fourth in the nation with 1,204 rushing yards and has six touchdown receptions – good for tops in the Big Ten.
-Linebackers coach Ross Els said after practice that the eye placement of Nebraska’s linebackers will be crucial in the Huskers avoiding getting burned by tight ends.
“We’ve got to get our eyes right and be prepared for the play-action pass,” Els said. “If your linebackers are starting in the backfield and not seeing guys release, you’re gonna have problems, whether it’s a safety, corner or linebacker.”
Penn State’s power-heavy attack will feature up to three tight ends on the field at once, Els said. They usually aren’t meant for personnel mismatches though, he added.
“It’s more for the running game. When they start to put a lot of them in, they’re’e gonna run the ball more like most teams do. But these are athletic kids, they’ve got great size, they’re receiving threats obviously. We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Els said.