Penn State Notes: Hackenberg says O-line is improving

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Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Christian Hackenberg (14) scrambles during the fourth quarter against the Michigan State Spartans at Beaver Stadium. (Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY Sports)

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg was sacked three more times Saturday to increase his season's total to 42.

But the sophomore said he has been encouraged by how hard the offensive line has worked, and saw signs of improvement.

"We worked extremely hard at it," Hackenberg said after the Nittany Lions' 34-10 loss to No. 10 Michigan State at Beaver Stadium. "That's a testament to the offensive line and how hard they're practicing and how they approach the game, how they approach their preparations. I think they've done a better job."

Hackenberg, who went 21 of 45 for 195 yards, said the 15 practices the Lions are allowed to conduct as they prepare for a bowl game will be a tremendous help not only for the bowl but for next season.

"We have a team here that we're starting to believe in more and more each week, and the coaching staff is starting to believe in each of us each week," he said.

 

Sam's the man

Senior Sam Ficken kicked his 23d field goal of the season, from 41 yards, in the second quarter. That made him the Nittany Lions' all-time leader in field goals for a season.

But his postgame thoughts were more on the opening kickoff, a low, bouncing kick that Michigan State's R.J. Shelton returned 90 yards for a touchdown.

"It's senior day, it's obviously a big deal, and you try to tune that stuff out," he said. "I don't think I did a good job tuning out. It was a bad kickoff and a good return by them. . . . The touchdown was completely on me."

Ficken missed a 51-yard attempt before his success on the 41-yard kick gave him a school record.

"Sure, it's a nice personal achievement," he said, "but I would give that back in a heartbeat if it means we could get the win."

 

Linebacker issues

Penn State was missing two linebackers - starter Brandon Bell and true freshman Jason Cabinda, who started in Bell's place last week - because of undisclosed injuries. Mike Hull, who has played middle linebacker all season, moved to an outside spot, and his backup, Gary Wooten, took over in the middle.

"It was next man up," coach James Franklin said. "We talk about numbers and scholarships and things like that. Every time we have an injury, it causes problems for us."

 

Zettel's thievery

Junior Anthony Zettel, Penn State's 6-foot-4, 276-pound defensive tackle, picked off his third interception of the season in the second quarter, but the Lions could not convert the turnover into points.