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To beat Penn State, Ohio State has to stop Christian Hackenberg. Here’s how

Since Bill O'Brien left for the NFL, Christian Hackenberg has been under siege.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Christian Hackenberg committed to Penn State to play and learn under a great offensive mind, former New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator Bill O'Brien. He possessed a mixture of NFL size and NFL throwing ability at age 18. They were a match made in football heaven. As a freshman, Hackenberg lived up to the hype; he threw 20 touchdown passes and led a sanctioned Nittany Lion team to a respectable 7-5 record. He completed a career high 58.9 percent of his passes and got sacked 21 times on 392 drop backs. Then in the 2014 off-season, O'Brien left Happy Valley to take an NFL head coaching job with the Houston Texans, and ever since his departure, it has been downhill for Hackenberg.

Penn State hired James Franklin, an aggressive recruiter and head coach who turned Vanderbilt into a relevant program while he was there, but he was known to have trouble coaching a productive, consistent offense. In 2014, the talented signal caller threw 15 interceptions to only 12 touchdown passes and was under duress all season, getting sacked 44 times. He was given a makeshift offensive line and a non-existent running game. Franklin runs more of a college system, compared to Bill O'Brien's, which was about as pro-styled as a college offense could get.

"It was tough, because you sort of bought in (to O'Brien)," Hackenberg said. "I was committed for so long to one guy and a system that I played in and had some success in and was happy to see the direction it was going. When that changed, it was tough, at 18 years old, to deal with that."

Coming off a disastrous 2014 campaign, Hackenberg was supposed to bounce back in 2015 and solidify himself as one of the first quarterbacks taken in next year's draft. Then, they played Temple in the opener.

Hackenberg completed 44 percent of his passes for 103 yards and added a pick six. Most importantly, the protection did not improve. He was sacked 10 times, no that was not a typo, 10 times on 35 drop backs. The Owls brought pressure up the A-gap the entire game and the offensive tackles got beat with bull rushes and speed rushes. It was not pretty.

Where the pressure came from on the ten sacks:

Left tackle A-gap Right tackle
5 4 2

Here is a breakdown of a few of the ten sacks that were allowed against Temple:

1. This was the first sack of the game and really the only one that I put on the quarterback. The offensive line provided pretty good protection except for the running back, who doubled the defensive end, rather than picking up the linebacker on the delayed A-gap blitz. But, Hackenberg held the ball for a lengthy 3.38 seconds before taking the sack. He had time to get rid of it.

2. On this play, the Owls' rushed five, including a delayed A-gap blitz that was not picked up. The left tackle was slow out of his stance, missed the initial punch and possessed poor footwork to give up the sack. The linebacker blitz was not picked up by the running back and he would have been free to make the sack if the left tackle was not beaten so badly by the defensive end. Hackenberg had 1.88 seconds to avoid the sack.

3. This is just a basic four-man rush with a linebacker showing blitz and a stunt on the interior. The left tackle showed extremely poor footwork and got beat with a pure speed rush. When your tackles have trouble blocking edge rushers, keep a tight end and/or a running back in to help, even if it is just a chip. Instead, both ran routes, which looked like a miscommunication on the right side of the offensive line, as the right tackle blocked inside, rather than the left defensive end. The left tackle got abused on this play and the opposing defensive end came off the edge unblocked, to make the sack. Hackenberg had 2.00 seconds to release the football.

4. Here, Temple showed a four-man rush with a linebacker showing blitz. When an offensive line gets beat like a drum an entire game, the gameplan has to adapt. They could not hold their blocks long enough to perform play-action and they needed to introduce a quick pass and screen game to combat the aggressive Temple defensive line. The left tackle got beat with a another pure speed rush (do you see a trend?) and the linebacker delayed another A-gap blitz (do you see another trend?), which went unblocked. If the right defensive end did not get the sack, the linebacker would have gotten it. Hackenberg had 1.78 seconds to get the ball out of his hand on this play.

5. This was the most pathetic of the bunch. Temple showed a 3-4 front, dropped the nose guard into coverage and rushed only two. The right defensive tackle swam inside the left tackle, who expected the guard to double team, since you know, Temple rushed only two. But the help never came and Hackenberg went down for the sixth time. Not only was the sack embarrassing, but when Hackenberg completed his drop, the two Temple defenders had already pushed the five offensive linemen back 4-plus yards.

Ohio State defensive line vs. the Penn State defensive line

After watching the offensive line performance versus Temple, there is no reason why the Ohio State defensive line should not dominate on Saturday.

The sack numbers aren't where they were last year for Bosa but he is actually more disruptive as a pass rusher this season. Also, look at how the Penn State left tackle performed above, he should feast. On the other edge, Tyquan Lewis has been able to take advantage of one-on-one blocking, leading the Buckeyes with 5.5 sacks and Sam Hubbard is a star in the making, coming off of his most dominant collegiate game. They have also been able to generate pressure on the interior, with Adolphus Washington putting together one of the most disruptive and playmaking interior defensive linemen season's in the country. After taking on double teams for all of 2014, Washington bumped over to Michael Bennett's more aggressive spot from last season and it has paid off. The thing that is special about the Ohio State defensive line is that when you have a player like Bosa, he can be moved inside on pass rush situations to add Hubbard off the edge. The defensive line is immensely athletic, talented and versatile, which will give this poorly coached offensive line extreme trouble.

Then they have the linebackers who have shown to be dynamic pass rushers. Darron Lee, Joshua Perry and Raekwon McMillan have been able to generate pressure in the A-gap and off the edge. Lee has been excellent timing his blitzes off the edge and McMillan especially has been a terror in the A-gap when he has been asked to bring pressure.

Here is an example of an A-gap stunt that the Buckeyes called versus Alabama, courtesy of

Just like Temple, they showed a six-man rush, but only brought four. The right defensive end dropped back into coverage and the Buckeye defense got immense pressure in the A-gap against a very good and well-coached Alabama offensive line.

After seeing the Nittany Lions unable to pick up pressure on interior stunts, delayed linebacker blitzes and get plain beat one-on-one off the edge, I expect a huge day for the Ohio State defense. They are going to play their base Cover 4, leaving their secondary on islands and bringing pressure all night until Penn State can show that they can stop them.

The woes will continue on Saturday night for Christian Hackenberg and he will be counting down the days until the 2016 NFL Draft.