Aaron Yorke: Townie! Good to see you man. It's not often I get to hang around guys who were Penn State fans during the glory years.
87Townie: To put my history in perspective, I sold cokes in the stadium from '84 to '86. I was in 7th grade in 1982 and I remember the goal post carried through town after the national championship win that year.
AY: That's awesome! My first Penn State memory is 6-4.
87T: Oh dear god. I was at that game. First game I ever took my wife to. Jesus, it's a wonder you still even watch football.
AY: J/K I do remember the 1995 Rose Bowl, but I wasn't a real fan back then. 2004 was my first season in the student section, and it was interesting to say the least. I still remember the "MILLS FOR HEISMAN" banner draped across one of the RVs during the first game vs. Akron.
87T: That poor kid. Zack Mills is a classic example of how to ruin a running quarterback. He was broken badly. I went to see us play at UVA, I was a grad student at UNC at the time. I couldn't believe we lost. They ran him ragged.
AY: Let's get right to it, are you a FIUR [offensive coordinator John] DONOVAN guy, or do you trust the current coaching staff to get this current goon squad turned around?
87T: I’m no Brock Huard fan, but I think he’s qualified to evaluate plays. And he was highly critical of the wide receiver route schemes in the Temple game. And watching the play calling and design last year, I was frustrated.
I think Donovan is totally out of his depth here. All you had to do was watch the OSU game to know that we have a "C" student running our offense. Take a simple play that OSU used effectively against Virginia Tech during that game. You had three recievers bunched to Cardale Jones's right side. And they brought a guy in motion across the backfield. The motion guy was going to get the ball. The bunch of recievers acted as a giant pick play. The ball snapped and the motion man ran at an angle towards the sidelines. The corner assigned to cover him got tangled up in the trio of recievers and the respective defenders.
That play resulted in chunk gains each time. It’s not hard to execute. It isn’t a five step drop. And it would work really well with our speed guys. Why don’t we have that? Instead, out of our bunch set, we run three deep routes that take forever to develop…and nobody gets open. I think Donovan is a journeyman play caller who collected ideas from his experience. I don’t think he’s up at night drawing up new plays to defeat defensive schemes.
That’s okay. We’ve had that in the past. When you played Joe, you knew that he was going to run off tackle. You knew you were going to see the end around, the screen, and the draw. But back then, our guys prided themselves on punching you in the mouth and doing it anyway. I don’t see that kind of toughness on this team. I don’t see that mean-as-a-snake, linebacker-killing fullback that was a standard in our old offense. Instead, I see speed and a desire for "finesse".
Except, without the finesse part.
If we want to be at the top of the Big Ten, we need creative thinkers on offense and defense. We need minds that evaluate kids and figure out how to work within their skill sets. And we need coaches that can take a 320-pound marshmallow and turn him into a roadgrader that wants to fucking kill anyone who touches Hack.
We don’t have that. We should have that.
AY: I'm not a big coaching guy. It's mostly because I'm not on the inside. I can only see what is happening on the field. And here's something I know is true: Players have a bigger impact on the game than coaches. When I watch Penn State's varying performance over the past two years, I see a young group of guys who are playing inconsistently. The offensive line was dreadful on Saturday, but it's not always going to be that bad. Last year versus Ohio State, the unit managed to mount together a few decent drives against Ohio State, which boasted one of the fiercest front lines in the country. Against Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl, when the defense was shredded by big plays, the offense was able to punch back and mount a comeback.
So what happened? Did the coaching staff go from being super smart to complete doody heads from week to week? I find that hard to believe. Did Donovan call better plays against Boston College than against Temple? Probably not. I think the inconsistency of a young group of players is a much bigger part of Penn State's troubles, especially when you factor in the success that James Franklin, Donovan, and company had at Vanderbilt. Even if you think the SEC is/was overrated, you have to think that nine wins against Vandy's old schedule translates into at least that many against the row of cupcakes that PSU has lined up.
But it might not work out that way. The players are different. It's tough to make adjustments in the second half (or at least see them have an impact) when the offensive line can't pick up a blitz and your quarterback has trouble checking down when he's under pressure.
Which is more likely? That Donovan was better at calling plays for Vanderbilt, has a four-page playbook, and doesn't know what an adjustment is? Or that Penn State's young wide receivers, quarterback, and offensive line haven't yet turned into the studs we were hoping for when they were recruited?
87T: Okay Aaron, my question to you: Is Christian Hackenberg overrated? and Why or Why not?
AY: It depends on whom you ask. If we're basing this on his NFL Draft stock at the outset of the season, then yes, I think he's overrated. If we're basing this on his recruiting rankings, then I also think he's overrated. However, if we're talking about his play on the field, then Hackenberg is properly rated, because that's the only thing that I'm basing my opinion of him on. Hackenberg reminds me a lot of former Penn State quarterback Rob Bolden in that he was highly rated coming out of high school, started his first game as a true freshman, and has made some brilliant throws that make you see why he has so much potential.
But those throws don't come nearly as often as they need to. Overall, Hackenberg isn't a very accurate quarterback, and that's not entirely due to protection issues. Pro Football Focus rated him as one of the last accurate passers in the nation last year, even when he wasn't under pressure. And that was when he was throwing to behemoth tight end Jesse James. Before all heck broke loose in the Temple game, we saw Hackenberg make a couple of really nice throws, but he also bounced one on what should have been a simple horizontal throw. That sums up his career pretty nicely.
To add to the accuracy issues, Hackenberg doesn't react to the blitz well (shocking, I know). He doesn't move well in the pocket, and he never seems to want to get rid of the ball, whether that be on a check down, or just throwing a lob into single coverage to one of his athletic wide receivers. When things break down, great quarterbacks make plays. Hackenberg hasn't made enough, and I don't think that's a coaching issue.
87T: Depends on whose expectations we are trying to meet. Clearly, NFL talent scouts think the kid is great. And we know what reliable sources they are…cough JaMarcus Russell cough.
I’m old and I’ve seen a lot of quarterback play. In a vacuum, Christian Hackenberg is a great quarterback. I’d bet on him against any other Big Ten quarterback in a skills competition. In the hierarchy of Penn State quarterbacks, this kid is the best we’ve seen since Kerry Collins. He throws a strong, tight spiral. He puts the ball in places for his receivers to make plays.
However, football games aren’t quarterback skills competitions. And I can already hear you armchair quarterbacks in the peanut gallery, pushing up your glasses, and shouting about stats. Yes, Hack’s stats sucked last year. And in his first game they were atrocious.
But football isn’t golf. It isn’t swimming or tennis or another individual sport.
Football is a team sport. Quarterback play is dependent on the rest of the team. You can be the most accurate passer in the world, but if you don’t have time or the receivers drop the balls…your stats suck. And I think that’s what’s happening to Hack. His team is letting him down.
The unofficial stats back that up. Humble Buckeye timed Hack’s drops. Here’s what he posted on BSD:
Average time to throw: 2.16 seconds
Median time to throw: 2.13 seconds
Average time to sack: 2.43 seconds
Median time to sack: 2.32 seconds
Difference between average throw time and sack time: 0.27 seconds
To put it in perspective, here are some NFL averages from the 2012 season.
NFL average time to throw: 2.73 seconds
NFL median time to throw: 2.72 seconds
NFL average time to sack: 3.21 seconds
NFL media time to sack: 3.22 seconds
Difference between NFL average throw time and sack time: 0.38 seconds.
Take it for what its worth, but it appears hack is being asked to do something even NFL QBs can’t do. I feel bad for the kid. That offensive line is just terrible, and even when he does get time (very rare), receivers are not getting open (there were several replays that clearly showed this). Yes, some of his throws are off the mark, but it’s very clear he’s rushing them and his feet are rarely set. And he has to rush them. He has no time.
Humble isn’t a Penn State homer. He’s not a Hackenberg apologist either. He’s just showing how pressured this kid is. And yes, Hack should’ve thrown the ball away at times. But one thing I know about this kid is that he wants to win. And he’ll try to carry the team if he has to. He’s done that before, dragging the mediocre players along with him like leaves in the wake of a sports car…(lookin’ at you, Rutgers…and you Michigan…and you UCF…and you too Boston College).
But it didn’t work at Temple. And it won’t work without more help. Any help. From coaches. From other players. Somebody, anybody…just make a damn play.
Okay, last question...after the Temple disaster (I think that qualifies as a disaster), what would constitute a "good" season for Penn State this year?
AY: Wow, for a guy who doesn't care about stats, those are a whole lot of stats. So I'm to believe that Hackenberg carries Penn State when the team wins but is failed by his teammates when it loses? Interesting.
I still have eight wins. Everyone is overreacting to one bad game. I figured the team would give up two games to Michigan and Northwestern or something like that. Maybe they still lose to Northwestern, but Temple could end up being a tougher test than all of the home games on the schedule. Let's see how the team looks against Buffalo before assuming that every game will be a 10-sack disaster.
87T: Ideally, the result of the Temple game will light a fire under some asses – coaches and players alike. We rip the rest of our non-conference schedule and win more conference games than last year.
We only won two (two?!) conference games last year. While it hurts to say it, a three-conference win season is theoretically better. It won’t make me feel much better, but it would statistically, be an improvement.
The best case scenario is that Temple is much, much better than people think. We aren’t as bad as we thought. We get some shit figured out on offense and win four conference games and a bowl game.
However, the worst case is that the offense doesn’t improve and we win two or fewer conference games. At that point, it’ll be time to take a long hard look at the coaching staff…particularly the assistants.
Herb Hand is a nice guy. He’s funny on Twitter, and he’ll make you a hell of a dinner. But I want a tough S.O.B. who gets the best out of his offensive linemen. So far, he hasn’t shown me shit. Same with Donovan. I need proof that this guy isn’t just along for the ride with Franklin. He needs to wow me with a game or two this year.
Because if this team doesn’t improve, the alumni are going to go apeshit. I know a guy who’s already getting the torches out and sharpening the pitchforks…
AY: Oh the assistants are to blame? And not the man who's in charge of the whole program? If this doesn't turn around, I still think Franklin should be able to coach the players that he recruited, but he'll be on the hot seat for sure. Why he gets a pass for Saturday while the behind-the-curtains offensive coordinator and the freaking offensive line coach get to be the fall guys is a mystery to me. I still have faith in this staff, but Franklin deserves the most blame if the team continues to sour because the buck stops with him.