At Penn State, 2 numbers tell the tale of Christian Hackenberg’s progress

Christian Hackenberg has drastically cut down on interceptions this season.
Mitch Stringer/Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg entered the season looking to put a sophomore slump behind him and prove right those who have projected him as a potential first-round pick in some future NFL draft. 

Through three quarters of the season, he has not put up the kinds of eye-popping passing numbers that have almost become the norm in college football given the proliferation of hurry-up, spread offenses, but it is not hard to conclude he is having a better season in 2015 than he did in 2014. 

His yards per game are down, but he has drastically improved one key stat while making a modest increase in another that is nearly as important. 

What would those numbers be? Interceptions and touchdown passes. After throwing 15 of the former and 12 of the latter in 13 games last season, he has only two picks through nine games, and he has already thrown one more TD pass than he did in all of 2014. 

“It was one of those things, last year, where I was just trying to make a play,” he said this week per the Centre Daily Times

“Sometimes you try to play outside of yourself…I think that’s definitely something (where) maturity has played a big role. I learned a lot from last year, and that was great for me in terms of my development as a player.”

Coach James Franklin defended Hackenberg throughout the offseason, and he was happy to see the junior take another step forward last week as the Nittany Lions beat Penn State 39-0. 

“Christian Hackenberg, I think a lot of times people find reasons to be critical,” Franklin said after Hackenberg completed 21 of 29 passes for 256 yards with a pair of TDs. “To me, the most important statistic is touchdown to interception ratio. He’s done a great job of that in our last six games, 12 touchdowns to zero interceptions. He has had four games with 250-plus passing yards, so once again, Christian Hackenberg, very positive statistic I’m going to give you guys.”

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