The true freshman's also skilled in the art of deception.
Through two weeks under center for Penn State, Hackenberg has shown a knack at being sneaky - pulling off the misdirection of the play-action fake as well as he's thrown the ball down field.
“It's something that he had (coming in),” head coach Bill O’Brien says of Hackenberg’s ability to deceive defenses. “I think we've worked on him a lot, just based on how we fake the ball, the different play fakes that we have.”
So far, Hackenberg's been quite convincing with the trickery.
On one play against Eastern Michigan, he lulled the defense to sleep with a shoulder shrug that made it look as if he had handed the ball off to running back Zach Zwinak.
The result was a 43-yard connection with receiver Allen Robinson, setting up Penn State's first score of the day.
“It's not easy to understand how to fake the football,” O’Brien says, “and great quarterbacks, whether it's Brady, Manning, Rodgers, and these young guys, Kaepernick, and Vick - these guys are great fakers of the football.”
O'Brien's quick to note that it's not time to put Hackenberg on the same plane as the NFL greats.
But for defenders, including the ones who go against the freshman in practice, the slight of hand is a weapon to be reckoned with.
“If you do look in the backfield,” Penn State senior safety Malcolm Willis says, “and you get caught on something like that. It's dangerous.”
Just how dangerous?
Penn State used play-action fakes on a little more than a third of Hackenberg's pass plays in week two.
The freshman completed 70 percent of his throws on those plays.
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