STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania — Penn State's captains called the team together during an off week to address its two consecutive losses. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg says it helped steer the Nittany Lions in the right direction as it prepares to face Nov. 13 Ohio State.
The sophomore, in a job with equal parts responsibility and adversity, is facing the pressure of rejuvenating an offense that has scored only two touchdowns in three Big Ten games.
Despite engineering early-season, game-winning drives against Central Florida and Rutgers, Hackenberg has faced intense pressure, including 20 sacks and plenty of knockdowns.
Penn State (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) has dropped consecutive games to Northwestern and Michigan after four straight victories. Next up on Saturday is a home game against No. 13 Ohio State (5-1, 2-0), a team that has won 18 straight conference games and defeated the Nittany Lions 63-14 last season in Columbus.
Hackenberg said he and the other captains called the meeting to clear the air.
"A lot of us had to get some things off our chest and we did," Hackenberg said. "I think that was good. I think it was establishing the expectations again and making sure that we're doing everything we can and making sure that we get the job done.
"There were a good amount of guys that spoke," he said. "We're moving in the right direction."
It's another step in the 19-year-old's growth as a leader. Hackenberg remained committed to Penn State out of high school in Fork Union, Virginia, despite NCAA scholarship sanctions levied during the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Hackenberg threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 20 touchdown passes as a freshman but has only five TD passes this year. He tossed 10 interceptions in 12 games last season; this year he has seven during the first six games.
He's playing behind an offensive line that has just two scholarship players, including a redshirt freshman. But he leads the Big Ten in passing yards at nearly 273 per game, already has set three Penn State records and continues to impress Franklin.
"When you're having some challenges and having some issues, how you handle that really shows people's true colors," Franklin said. "Christian's a guy who's been great about taking responsibility, about asking, 'What can I do better, what can I do more of, how can I help this team be successful?'"
Hackenberg has been openly frustrated at his unit's lack of consistency and inability to establish a running game, but he relishes his role as a leader.
"Especially at a place like Penn State, there haven't been many other guys (sophomores) to do that, and it's an incredible honor for me," he said. "I just continue to do my job the best I can and hold everyone to a higher standard and hold myself to that standard as well. If you're not holding yourself to that standard, they're not really going to follow you."
Optimism remains high, Hackenberg said, even with a potent Buckeye team looming.
"We're almost there; it's right there," he said. "You can't give up on it. When guys do that, you lose all progress that you've made. And these guys won't do that."
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