Has Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg Hit the Freshman Wall?

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor INovember 12, 2013

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Quarterback Christian Hackenberg #14 of the Penn State Nittany Lions in action against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium on October 26, 2013 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

No player came into the Big Ten this year with more hype and intrigue than Christian Hackenberg of Penn State. The early returns on Hackenberg proved those accolades were warranted. 

Yet, could it be that the hottest freshman out of the gates in the Big Ten has hit the classic "freshman wall?" 

After last weekend against Minnesota, where Hackenberg was outdone by Philip Nelson, it is a fair question—especially given how things started for the Nittany Lions and Hackenberg.

Three weeks into the season, Hackenberg, the first ever true freshman to start at quarterback for Penn State, had Big Ten Freshman of the Year under wraps. 

He had racked up two of the first three Freshman of the Week awards and had completed 71 percent of his passes for 851 yards and four touchdowns. 

Just a few weeks later, Hackenberg had his biggest moment to date, leading a furious final-minute drive to tie the game against Michigan. 

Hackenberg had just cemented himself a legend-in-the-making, throwing two ridiculous passes that were equally ridiculous catches, like this one: 

Penn State and Hackenberg were flying high at 4-2 overall on the season and had just won against a ranked Michigan team. 

Again, Hackenberg had the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award all to his own.

But assuming has a funny way of making fools out of us all, and the case of Christian Hackenberg is a great lesson in that.  

Since that Michigan loss, things have steadily gone downhill for both Hackenberg and the team. 

He's completed just 56.9 percent of his passes for 515 yards and just two touchdowns to two interceptions.

Against Ohio State, Hackenberg was held to just 112 yards on 23 attempts and had two interceptions to just one touchdown. 

The last time out was perhaps the biggest clue that Hackenberg has hit a bit of a wall, going just 14-of-25 for 163 yards and exactly zero touchdowns.

It was the first game all season he went without throwing for a touchdown. 

Are part of the numbers trending downward because of the level of competition increasing and some windy conditions last weekend? 

Maybe, but Hackenberg was able to have a good game against a UCF team that is now ranked No. 17 in the country—completing a season high 75 percent of his passes for 262 yards and a touchdown in Week 3. 

Last weekend, the wind wasn't affecting his opposite number, Philip Nelson. He completed 15-of-24 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown.

When you look at the numbers and the results for his team, it's hard not to conclude that Hackenberg may indeed be hitting the wall. 

Either that or the fact that he is just 18 years old to begin with, as his coach has suggested as a reason why his performances have been so up and down. 

With games against Nebraska and Wisconsin to finish out the season, Hackenberg will have tremendous challenges ahead. They also are tremendous opportunities to show that he hasn't hit a wall. 

Since Penn State doesn't have a bowl game ahead on its horizon, playing well and heading into the offseason with some positive momentum would do wonders to the program and Hackenberg's progression.

 

*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.

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