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Stopping Penn State's Christian Hackenberg a 'challenge,' but not impossible for Terps

Behind a shaky offensive line, quarterback Christian Hackenberg has struggled somewhat for Penn State this season.
Behind a shaky offensive line, quarterback Christian Hackenberg has struggled somewhat for Penn State this season. (Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)

Seventeen years ago, Maryland coach Randy Edsall was scouting and recruiting Christian Hackenberg's father, Erick.

Edsall was an assistant coach at Syracuse. Erick Hackenberg was a standout quarterback at Marian Catholic High School in Pennsylvania who chose to attend Virginia before transferring to Susquehanna.

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Now Edsall and his defensive staff at Maryland are scheming to find ways to slow down Erick's son, Christian, arguably the most talented young quarterback in the country. The Terps play Hackenberg and Penn State on Saturday in State College, Pa.

While Hackenberg has more interceptions (nine) than touchdown passes (six) in seven games this season, he threw for 2,955 yards, 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a true freshman last year after signing with Penn State as a five-star recruit.

"He's big, he's strong and he can make every throw that you want a quarterback to make," Edsall said of the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Hackenberg. "He's mobile and able to move around. So when an opportunity does present itself, he can hold the ball down and run. He's a big, strong kid, so you have to tackle. He's very impressive when you watch him. He does a really good job, and his statistics bear that out. Again, it's a tremendous challenge."

One of Maryland's goals will be generating pressure against a Penn State offensive line allowing more sacks per game (3.57) than all but five teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

The Nittany Lions' struggles to contain pressure have contributed to Hackenberg's own down numbers this season. During Penn State's 29-6 loss to Northwestern on Sept. 27, Hackenberg was sacked four times and pressured on countless others. Hackenberg finished the game 22-for-45 for 216 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.

"I think as you look at some of the teams that have had success against them, like Northwestern, you see they pressured and didn't use balanced pressures," Terps defensive coordinator Brian Stewart said. "They pressured from the right, left and rotated the pressure."

If Hackenberg is given time, he has the arm and wide receivers to hurt defenses with. Sophomore DaeSean Hamilton, who had 14 catches for 126 yards in a double-overtime loss Saturday to Ohio State, is averaging 2.2 catches per game more than any other player in the Big Ten Conference (8.1) and is second in the conference in receiving yards per game (98.0).

"I think Hamilton is very quick and does a good job catching the ball with his hands," Stewart said. "He has great separation, so when he is close to a guy and the ball is in the air, he can separate and get to the ball. He's a guy that you are scared to have him have the ball in his space because he is going to make some people miss."

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