Christian Hackenberg

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Hackenberg: No hard feelings with James Franklin

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Christian Hackenberg created a bit of a stir when he omitted Penn State head coach James Franklin from his announcement confirming he will be passing on his final year in Happy Valley and entering the NFL Draft. Now at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, that was one of the topics of conversation once again as Hackenberg makes his rounds with the media. Hackenberg says there is no friction with his now former head coach at Penn State.

“We’re fine,” Hackenberg said, according to PennLive. “No hard feelings there. I think he’s doing a great job up there in terms of recruiting and getting the program headed in the right direction.”

Franklin previously said he had spoken to Hackenberg about his decision, perhaps easing the tension from the way things looked as Hackenberg was on his way out. Hackenberg’s lack of public thanks to Franklin was viewed as a slap in the face of Franklin during a month that also saw two assistant coaches leave to fill the same position in other programs and a small handful of players opt to transfer for one reason or another. But Hackenberg says there was no ill-will intended.

“It was one of those times where it was really emotional,” Hackenberg said. “It was a decision that was made, and I didn’t have anything written out, so what came to mind was the people I spent a lot of time with and the people that brought me to Penn State. Coach Franklin and I had a conversation in person, and I felt like that was best for our relationship to thank him on a personal level.”

Hackenberg did single out a couple of assistants on Franklin’s staff, including offensive coordinator John Donovan, who was fired after the end of the regular season.

James Franklin says Hackenberg called him day after declaring for NFL Draft

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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When Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg announced his decision to enter the NFL Draft with a year of eligibility remaining, much was made about the display of public thanks the Nittany Lions’ battle-fatigued quarterback shared. One notable exception was Penn State head coach James Franklin, which led to plenty of hot takes left and right. On Saturday, Franklin was asked about Hackenberg’s departure and lack of public thanks on his way out during a media press conference.

“I’m really happy for Christian and his family, Franklin said. Franklin said Hackenberg actually called Franklin the next day and claimed the two had a great conversation.

The relationship between Hackenberg and Franklin had been a talking point for the past two seasons. After a brilliant display as a freshman under Bill O’Brien, Hackenberg’s development was hindered under Franklin for what turned out to be his final two seasons in Happy Valley. Behind a shallow offensive line, Hackenberg was sacked routinely, leading him to appear to take some steps back in his development. As he enters the NFL Draft mix, scouts will be taking a deeper look at Hackenberg’s skills and determine whether or not the offensive line woes were enough of a factor to hold him back as a sophomore and junior.

As for Penn State’s next starting quarterback, Franklin said there will be an open competition for the job starting this spring. Trace McSorely stepped in to replace an injured Hackenberg in Penn State’s TaxSlayer Bowl loss to Georgia and eventually found a comfort level. That brief time leading the offense gave McSorely a nice confidence boost but is far from enough evidence for Franklin to make a call naming McSorely the starter for 2016.

Franklin also noted he was appreciative of the jobs done by former assistants Bob Shoop and Herb Hand. Shoop, who was Franklin’s defensive coordinator, accepted a job offer for the same role at Tennessee. Hand accepted a lateral move at Auburn.

Georgia holds off Penn State rally for TaxSlayer Bowl victory

AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser
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Georgia (10-3) once led Penn State (7-6) 24-3 in the TaxSlayer Bowl but a furious rally by the Nittany Lions with a backup quarterback fell just shy. Georgia’s 24-17 victory was made official when a Hail Mary attempt from Trace McSorely fell incomplete at the goal line.

Georgia’s defense knocked out Penn State starting quarterback Christian Hackenberg in the first half of the game. He returned on the sideline in the second half in street clothes, giving way to backup McSorely for his first serious playing time at Penn State. It was a rough adjustment once he entered the game but McSorely and Penn State eventually got in a groove and established some momentum through the air. McSorely passed for 142 yards and two touchdowns to lead the second half rally, but Georgia had done enough to grab the win.

Georgia running back Sony Michel and Keith Marshall played a key role on the ground for the Bulldogs. Neither had a big performance, but Michel’s 85 yards and touchdown and Marshall’s 62 rushing yards came at key moments to move the first down markers in the fourth quarter and keep the clock running. Georgia’s Greyson Lambert completed just 10 of his 20 pass attempts for 115 yards, but they also seemed to be picked up at key moments when needed. Malcolm Mitchell hauled in 114 receiving yards and a touchdown, but it was receiver Terry Godwin who caught Penn State’s defense off guard for the touchdown play to Mitchell in the first half.

Georgia’s defense did more than knock Hackenberg out of the game. The run defense was well prepared for Penn State freshman running back Saquon Barkley. Barkley was limited to 69 yards on 17 carries and the Georgia defense always seemed to have a presence in the backfield to shut down any play attempting to develop laterally. Penn State’s offense did gain some juice in the second half though, and the Nittany Lions rolled up 401 yards of offense to Georgia’s 327. Penalties proved costly for Penn State though, with six penalties totaling just 39 yards, but that included a crucial 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct call on Austin Johnson on Georgia’s final offensive possession of the game to move the ball into Penn State territory.

With the win by Georgia, the SEC improves to 7-2 in bowl games this bowl season. The SEC still has a handful of games to be played, including Alabama’s national championship appearance against Clemson. The Big Ten closes out the postseason with a 5-5 record in bowl games, including a 1-3 mark against the SEC. Georgia interim head coach Bryan McClendon earned his first career bowl victory as a result of the game as well. Penn State’s James Franklin dropped to 3-2 in bowl games in his first loss since his bowl debut in 2011 with Vanderbilt.

Georgia will now turn the page as a program by ushering in the Kirby Smart era, just as soon as Smart is done with Alabama’s championship run in Tuscaloosa. Smart was on hand for the game to check out his new program. Penn State may also be turning a page depending on what happens with Hackenberg. If Hackenberg is on the move, Penn State got a glimpse of what may come in 2016 by seeing McSorely get some playing time and find himself in the offense. The two-minute drill with no timeouts left plenty of room for improvement, but McSorely was thrown into the fire for the first time for any extending playing time. If Hackenberg turns pro, McSorely will likely be the starting quarterback in 2016 for the Nittany Lions.

Georgia will open the 2016 season in Atlanta against North Carolina from the ACC in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. Penn State’s 2016 season kicks off against Kent State at home in Beaver Stadium before taking to the road to renew an in-state rivalry with Pittsburgh.

Christian Hackenberg leaves TaxSlayer Bowl with possible shoulder injury

AP Photo/Al Goldis
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Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg has been beaten up over the years, but he has finally been knocked out of a game by the Georgia Bulldogs. In a defensive TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Hackenberg was knocked out of the game in the second quarter and taken to the locker room for X-rays. His return is said to be doubtful for the Nittany Lions, as Georgia leads Penn State at halftime by a 17-3 score.

With Hackenberg out of the game, at least for now, Trace McSorely has taken over the Penn State offense. That should lead to a heavier work load for freshman running back Saquon Barkley, who has carried the football nine times for 18 yards for Penn State.

Georgia has scored the only touchdowns of the game thus far. On 2nd and 8 from the Penn State 44-yard line, Georgia’s Terry Godwin unloaded on a deep pass to Malcolm Mitchell for a touchdown after the Penn State defense bit on the wildcat. The 44-yard wildcat play has been the biggest offensive highlight of the game, with both teams playing well on defense, as expected going in. Georgia’s defense has also forced the only turnover with an interception off a tipped pass from Hackenberg off Barkley on the opening drive of the game. Georgia also added a late touchdown before halftime when Greyson Lambert connected with Godwin for a 17-yard touchdown.

The way this game is going, Georgia is lining up another win for the SEC, and unless Penn State can make anything happen with a backup quarterback in the second half, it could be another double-digit victory for the SEC.

UPDATE (1:58 PM): Hackenberg has now officially been ruled out for the rest of the game.

CFT Previews: TaxSlayer Bowl

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WHO: Georgia (9-3) vs. Penn State (7-5)
WHAT: The 71st TaxSlayer Bowl
WHERE: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Florida
WHEN: 12:00 pm ET, January 2 on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Georgia and Penn State may not bring the best offenses to Jacksonville, but they sure do have some solid defenses. That should make for a scrappy game on both sides of the field, and it might be a bit of a sloppy one too.

Georgia made it to Jacksonville undergoing a coaching transition. With Mark Richt let go (and since being hired by Miami; Georgia has since hired Alabama defensive cooridnator Kirby Smart, who is sticking with the Crimson Tide through the national championship game), the Georgia preparations have had to be done under interim head coach Bryan McClendon as the entire staff undergoes some changes. What that means for the execution and preparedness of the Bulldogs remains to be seen. Also, what will the morale of the team be like? One thing viewers should count on is seeing Georgia linebacker Jake Ganus lead the defense. The former UAB linebacker landed at Georgia after the UAB program temporarily shut down at the end of last season, and he quickly made an impact in Athens and earned the respect of his teammates. Ganus was voted a team MVP this season and a chance to play in a bowl game after UAB was left without an invitation last season will not be taken lightly. Ganus will be extra important because Georgia will be without Davin Bellamy due to a leg practice suffered in practice this week.

When it comes to defense, this is where Penn State typically shines as well, although there have been some games where the defense has been gassed. The extra time off to regropup and recuperate from a brutal end to the season could come in handy for Penn State. Award-winning pass rusher Carl Nassib will lead the defensive front for Penn State against a shaky at best Georgia offense. Nassib, Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson will first try to shut down any running lanes Georgia will try to expose. If Penn State can take away the running game, that puts the pressure on Georgia’s unreliable passing game. Of course, Penn State has their own concerns with passing stability with hot and cold Christian Hackenberg playing behind a shaky offensive line.

Both teams bring talented young 1,000-yard running backs to the game as well. Georgia sophomroe Sony Michel (1,076 rushing yards, 7 TDs) has become Georgia’s go-to back while Penn State freshman Saquon Barkley (1,007 rushing yards, 7 TDs) has turned in quite an impressive debut season.

THE PREDICTION: Georgia 23, Penn State 20