It took eight weeks, but Penn State true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg finally made the pass that I've been waiting for him to make. A lot of fans were anointing Hackenberg as a future star at Penn State as soon as he arrived on campus in August. Others waited for him to actually play an NCAA football game. Most of the bandwagon was filled when Hackenberg led the Lions to a stunning comeback win over Michigan.
After all that I still had my doubts. I mean, did those passes that the kid made against Michigan even involve any decision making? Penn State had its back against the wall. Hackenberg had to make those throws or else the game was over. There was no penalty for an interception. He just had to let it rip.
That wasn't the case on Saturday afternoon when a holding call erased a supposed Bill Belton touchdown run in overtime. The Lions were faced with a 3rd-and-11 from the Illinois 15-yard line. A touchdown would sure be nice here, but Hackenberg shouldn't take any chances, lest the ball get picked off. Penn State could be left with no points at all and be a field goal away from Illinois having a nice thing. That's dangerously close to Illinois having a nice thing.
After watching the first four quarter of the game, I wasn't sure that Hackenberg was up to the challenge. I found myself wondering about the quarterback's future. Thoughts like "What would Hackenberg's completion percentage be without all these bubble screens to Allen Robinson?", and "How many of these completions to Robinson are made only because Robinson is the greatest Penn State receiver I've ever seen?" creeped into my head. How good of a freshman season was Hackenberg even having? What if he's stuck with a bench of Brandon Felders after Robinson graduates?
That third down play put my mind at ease. Hackenberg dropped back, surveyed the field, and...
Completed a perfect throw to tight end Kyle Carter between three defenders in the end zone. No leaping acrobatics or NFL-ready footwork required.
I know it was against an Illinois team that Penn State should have finished off way earlier in the game, but Hackenberg's game-winning pass finally made be a believer. I hope there's still room left on the bandwagon.