Defensive front looks to get pressure on Penn State quarterback Hackenberg
When Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg has dropped back to pass this season, he has had nearly all the time in the world to throw.
In the Nittany Lions’ first two games against Central Florida and Akron, Hackenberg has only been sacked three times and hurried four times in pass drops. The lack of pressure has allowed Hackenberg to explode for impressive numbers.
Some of the characteristics that separate Big Ten football from other conferences are the increased stress on academics and competitive athletics. On the football front, the characteristics that separate Big Ten schools from other schools are the speed, athleticism and size.
Big Ten schools’ size does not skip over Penn State, the “neighbors to the west” that the Rutgers football team will play this weekend.
The Nittany Lions’ size begins on the offensive side of the ball, starting specifically with the starting five offensive linemen. PSU linemen average more than 6-foot-3 inches and weigh an average 306 pounds.
It’s not just the size of their offensive front, but also how they use their size, according to junior defensive lineman Darius Hamilton.
“They are a physical team, but any team in the Big Ten is going to be a physical team,” Hamilton said. “They know exactly what they are good at, and they do play to their strengths.”
The size and physicality has allowed Hackenberg the time to average 386.5 yards through the air, throw for four touchdowns and complete 65 percent of his passes.
For those reasons, it is the general consensus among the Scarlet Knights that it is imperative to get pressure on Hackenberg in order to slow the Nittany Lions down offensively.
For senior defensive lineman Dave Milewski, slowing down Hackenberg is critical to the team’s preparation.
“I think their quarterback is their guy who gets the whole offense going. I think he is an elite player,” Milewski said. “It’s absolutely critical for us as a defense to disrupt him and his reads as much as possible, especially from a defensive line perspective. Getting to the quarterback is absolutely crucial to our game plan this weekend.”
Not only can an effective pass rush and pressure from the defensive line slow down Hackenberg — it can also help the Rutgers secondary.
With pressure on the quarterback, defensive backs might have the benefit of a poor read or a bad throw. Without pressure, members in the secondary can be left to cover the offensive weapons longer while Hackenberg has plenty of time to throw.
It is help from the defensive line that senior safety Lorenzo Waters and the rest of the secondary appreciate.
“A good pass rush definitely helps. It disrupts timing, they can get in passing lanes and getting their hand up to knock a ball down,” Waters said. “All of those things the defensive line does when they get pressure definitely helps out the defense in the secondary.”
But for head coach Kyle Flood, the pass rush means nothing if Rutgers cannot stop the running attack.
“[The pass rush] is a big factor if you can stop them from running the ball,” Flood said. “When your pass rush gets going, it’s because the offense is in those must-pass situations. If we can minimize their run game, it will help us get to the passer. When they are in those must-pass situations … you leave yourself susceptible to what is an excellent quarterback on the other side.”
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