UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Offensive tackle Garry Gilliam said Christian Hackenberg was confident in the huddle last Saturday. He said he could tell the freshman quarterback was mature from the time he met him this summer, a characteristic that teammates and coach Bill O'Brien say can aid in his development.
So much of Hackenberg's future success -- this season and those in the coming years -- depends on learning and growing. Mastering the offense. Fine-tuning his relationship with O'Brien and quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher. Picking up cues from his teammates.
"He's a bright kid," O'Brien said.
Wide receiver Matt Zanellato remembers the first few times Hackenberg played 7-on-7 with the team in the summer. The kid didn't know the plays yet. He brought a sheet of paper with him and would look down before calling them.
Penn State (1-0) vs. Eastern Michigan (1-0), noon, Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pa. Penn State is favored by 24.
- TV, Radio, Internet:
Big Ten Network; KQV-AM (1410) and Penn State Sports Network; www.Go-PSUsports.com.
- Penn State:
Tight end Matt Lehman is out for the game (and the season). Tight end Kyle Carter and linebacker Mike Hull are considered day-to-day with injuries. ... The program is celebrating the anniversary of the 1973 undefeated team this weekend. ... Converted 1 of 16 third-down attempts last week against Syracuse.
- Eastern Michigan:
Has lost 10 or more games in three of the past four seasons. ... Former Michigan running back and Indianapolis Colts draft-pick Mike Hart is the running backs coach. ... Has a linebacker named Great Ibe, who had nine tackles in the season-opening victory last week against Howard.
- Hidden stat:
Penn State has lost just three times to Mid-American Conference opponents in its history (the most recent loss was last year against Ohio). It has won 19 times.
By training camp, Zanellato noticed the progression of Hackenberg in what he termed an "NFL offense." Hackenberg didn't need the cheat sheet anymore.
"You could tell throughout the year [Matt] McGloin got more comfortable," Zanellato said of last season's quarterback. "I'm sure we'll see that from Hackenberg as the season goes on, as he gets more and more comfortable with the scheme."
O'Brien said part of his job last week in the win against Syracuse was knowing exactly how much Hackenberg had learned and how well he could transfer that knowledge into a game situation.
"In the NFL, you have four preseason games and you can do those however you want," O'Brien said. "You can play your starters first half, three quarters, four quarters, however you want to do it, but by the end of four preseason games, you have a good idea about your team. In college you don't have that. You have two or three scrimmages where you're going against each other and you get a good feel, but where you get a good feel is in that first game."
Without those previous experiences, O'Brien acknowledged that he was trying to figure out what he could and should do with Hackenberg. By the fourth quarter, he said, he felt comfortable enough to challenge him on that third-and-long play with Penn State holding a 23-10 lead. It led to an interception but illustrated how much O'Brien might be willing to let his freshman quarterback do and how much more he is figuring him out.
"Now he knows what I'm like on game day and I know what he's like," O'Brien said. "It's going to be interesting going forward. ... He's been able to pick up so many different things in our offense, so it's more me doing a better job with him than him doing a better job, to be honest with you."
Mark Dent: email@example.com, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05. First Published September 7, 2013 4:00 AM