Former Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg knows a thing or two about playing Ohio State. He played at Ohio Stadium twice in his three years at PSU
Things didn’t go quite the way Hackenberg would’ve liked against at the Horseshoe. Penn State was beaten pretty handily both times. But there’s very much respect for Ohio State that radiates from him.
“I never had a school that I was a huge fan of, nothing like that,” Hackenberg said. “I come from a nutty, small family. My grandfather coached for 30 years and played. Both my grandparents played in college, as did my dad, my uncles, all of them, so I just respect very tough, hard-nosed, storied programs. So I always had a ton of respect for Ohio State.”
Games against OSU are what make playing Penn State the experience that it is. Sure, there might not be a defined rivalry, but for guys like Hackenberg, it’s a rivalry.
“I think it’s good for the Big Ten,” he said. “It’s good for college football and whether either of the programs want to admit it or not, to me it is a rivalry. Ultimately, these are the games that where the Big 10 is right now, that shape who’s going to win it and who’s going to represent probably in the College Football Playoff. There’s a lot that goes into this, and I think people are starting to embrace it.”
Embracing the magnitude of each year’s Ohio State game isn’t something new for fans or players, but now, the stakes are higher, much like they have been for most of the matchups.
“Playing them, you knew you were going to get their best shot and they knew that we were going to give them their best shot,” Hackenberg said. “Whether you call it a rivalry or not, these are the types of games when you come to a place like Penn State or when you go to a place like Ohio State, they motivate you. (I’m) not saying that any of the other teams don’t, but these are the moments that you can ink yourself in history with. It’s just always a fun matchup. They beat my a** a couple of times and we gave them a couple of shots when they didn’t expect it another year.”
Now, it’s Drew Allar under center for Penn State, an Ohio native with expectations that haven’t been seen since Hackenberg arrived. So far, he’s lived up to the hype, but Saturday’s game is his first big test in an environment he’s familiar with in a different capacity.
“I’ve been really proud of Drew,” Hackenberg said. “I’ve talked about this a lot, but the patience and discipline he’s shown in just being efficient and not trying to play outside of himself because it’s really easy to do that, I thought it’s something that’s not talked about enough.”
The keys to beating Ohio State fall on his shoulders much like they do for OSU QB Kyle McCord. For Allar, it presents a great opportunity to do something Hackenberg wasn’t able to do against the Buckeyes: Win
“This is going to be a pivotal moment for him and a great opportunity,” Hackenberg said. “I’m excited to see how he handles it, how he takes advantage of it because I think it’s going to be the difference maker.”
Many have said this is the best team coach James Franklin’s taken to Columbus in quite some time, and this team has the potential to do something special.
“I think we have an advantage from a defensive line to an offensive line perspective without getting super, super into the weeds there,” Hackenberg said. “When you look at the matchup it’s as even as it’s been even beyond 10 years. You got to go back a little ways from a pure roster and talent standpoint”
Of course it should come as no surprise who Hackenberg expects to be the X factors in the game.
“Both of these quarterbacks, Kyle McCord and Drew have a really unique opportunity here to separate themselves and do something really special,” Hackenberg said. “For Drew, I’m just excited to watch because I really do think the game is going to come down to two or three plays by the guys pulling the trigger and that’s going to tip the scale one way or the other.”