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PENN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 29, 2015
University Park, Pennsylvania
Q. Christian, I know you played a little bit of safety in high school. How hard is it to play that position maybe at that level? How hard would you imagine it would be at this level to play that position?
CHRISTIAN HACKENBERG: I had fun with it in high school. It was something that was kind of a need-based thing. We got really banged up, and my coaches let me take some reps in practice. But looking at it now, seeing the types of things that our defense asks them to do at this level, it's obviously a much bigger transition.
From a communication standpoint, it's very similar to the quarterback position and the defense. They have to kind of get everything going, and there is a lot of responsibility that hangs on their shoulders. So seeing guys execute at a high level is something that I think is special. We have a few guys that are doing it really well right now for us.
Q. What have you seen from the wide receivers in terms of getting separation that may be different from what those guys were doing last year? Is there anything you can do to help them if they're not getting the separation that they need?
CHRISTIAN HACKENBERG: I thought last week we did a great job of that, even more so than we had, I think, even this year. You can kind of see the development and just a lot more confidence, I think, in what they were doing and how they were doing it.
I think it's just been something that they've been building on throughout the entire year, and even last year and through the off-season. It's something that I think they're working on. I think it's huge for our team, it's huge for our efficiency and what we need to do.
So just being able to put them in situations where they can be successful, I think, is the goal for us as a unit and what we're trying to do. I try to do my end of that and making sure I deliver them an accurate football and giving them a chance to make a play for us.
Q. I'm wondering at what point did you realize Brandon Polk was super fast? That he could be a guy? Did you notice it right away or how long did it take?
CHRISTIAN HACKENBERG: Yeah, I think the first time he runs and he's one of the faster guys on the team, you think the kid's got some wheels; and then you see it when he puts the pads on is when you really get the true sense of that because there are some guys that are really fast without pads on, and then when you put the pads on, they slow down. I think he's one of those guys that maintains that speed.
He's done a good job, and I think we've done a good job of giving him opportunities to be successful in terms of getting him in space and letting him use that to his advantage.
Q. Army is allowing like 261 yards a game passing. You guys are able to stretch the field last week. What are you seeing on tape that may allow you to stretch the field again this week against Army?
CHRISTIAN HACKENBERG: I think they're doing what they need to do to fix that. They get paid to do that on their coaching staff. So we're expecting them to come in with a great game plan. We need to do what we need to do to be successful, and make sure we're executing our plays at a high level, and let the talent take over and see which guys can make plays, whether it be Army or us.
I think it's going to be a great challenge for us. We're excited about it. I think it's something we can build on throughout the year and make sure our execution and our focus is built on something we have control over.
Q. As a guy that went to a military high school, what appreciation do you have for military appreciation day?
CHRISTIAN HACKENBERG: I have a huge appreciation for it. Going to Fork Union and meeting some people there that have served on various different things and different branchs of the military, you gain a lot of respect for the things that they've done and the sacrifices they've made.
My uncle actually played at West Point. '95 he played D tackle at West Point and he served for 12 years after that. So I have a ton of respect for that program specifically and the things that are asked of those guys following their playing years there. So it's something that means a lot to me and my family. We have the utmost respect for everything and all the sacrifices that the military and their families have made.
Q. Were you ever recruited by any of the academies? Was there ever something in your future?
CHRISTIAN HACKENBERG: I talked to West Point for baseball my freshman year, but other than that it was something that I really had never looked at. So it was just something that was kind of not on my radar.
Q. I was wondering what Blacknall has brought to the passing game? It seems you have some deep chemistry with him. You made the big catch against Ohio State last year and how he played Saturday?
CHRISTIAN HACKENBERG: I think the more consistency he gets and the more confident he gets, the more plays he's going to make. Just being able to feed him the football and give him those opportunities and let him go up and make plays I think just helps him and helps our team and helps that receiving room take some pressure off some other guys.
So I think getting him rolling I think is going to spread the load out even more in that room and allow a lot of different guys to touch the football and make plays for us.
Q. Rodgers tore it up last night in the rain at Lambeau. It's probably going to rain a lot on Saturday as well. I know you said last week that you guys do wet ball work on Thursday. But what are some of the secrets and tricks if you want to give any away for throwing the ball when it's wet?
CHRISTIAN HACKENBERG: I think it's just the mental approach. Making sure you go out and try to do the same thing as if it was a dry game. You can't let it affect you. Usually when you start thinking about it is when it goes south.
You just try to approach it each day like it's the greatest day and being able to go out and execute. That's part of the job. That's part of my job.
Q. I asked Coach Franklin about this, but I'd like to hear from your perspective too. When Brandon Polk is on the field, obviously, it's almost like a 50-50. Defenses seem to be sucked in as a decoy. What do you see from defenses when he's on the field when you motion him across in like jet sweeps and so on and so forth?
CHRISTIAN HACKENBERG: Yeah, I think that's something we obviously look at on film in terms of what we want to do with that and how big of a role that wants to be in our game plan. Obviously it varies throughout the game. They make adjustments to that and however they do that, we usually try to make our adjustments accordingly.
So I think it's a different element, obviously. It's something that obviously we like to take advantage of. It's a changeup for our offense, and it allows us -- we've been getting a lot of explosive plays out of that, and it's been good for us.
Q. You've had a lot of young guys step up on offense this year. On the team as a whole, John Reid, Polk, Saquon, have you been impressed by how quickly these freshmen have come along? Is there a moment when you kind of thought this freshman and sophomore class was pretty strong?
CHRISTIAN HACKENBERG: I think they've done what they needed to do individually to make sure they've prepared themselves to be able to play. They've also done what they needed to do for our football team and how they've sacrificed and how they've prepared and how they've caught on to things and picked things up to be able to be put in a situation to play.
They've earned their jobs. Nothing is given to them. It's awesome to see those guys take that initiative and that type of focus and mentality and how much they care about it. It obviously creates competition, and competition brings the best out in each and every one of us.
So I think that's huge for our football team. They've done a great job of making plays for us, and they're going to continue to do so.
Q. What kind of baseball player were you then? You were pretty good, right, from what I recall?
CHRISTIAN HACKENBERG: Yeah, I was pretty good. I'm a football player now.
Q. Did you ever give that -- because you played your senior year if I'm correct, right?
CHRISTIAN HACKENBERG: Yeah, I played varsity all four years.
Q. Okay, and it was football from there on out though?
CHRISTIAN HACKENBERG: Yeah, I thought about it, but football is my first love. It's kind of the direction that I chose to go.
Q. I noticed in the cumulative stats that Penn State has been outscored 24-3 in third quarters this season. Is there something that's been extra tricky about those? Has there been some personnel loss in the first half that's affected that throughout the course of these games?
CHRISTIAN HACKENBERG: Yeah, I think that's something we need to work on. I don't think we can really put a finger on exactly what it is. It's just we need to come out and make sure we're a little more focused coming out of halftime. Offensively I thought we had a great opportunity to put some points on the board on the first drive last week and we weren't able to do so, and we kind of hit a rut there.
I think our defense did a great job of pulling us out of that with Austin Johnson making that huge play. So I think it's just something that we're going to continue to work on and get better at.
You're always trying to find things to get better at and make it that you play that perfect, complete game, and that's always what every team is striving for. That is one of the aspects that as a unit and as a team we're going to continue to work on.
Q. What's it like playing opposite a guy with the production -- or what's it like playing next to a guy like Carl Nassib with his production that he's put up in the past games. Do details tend to focus more on him or leaving you with more one-on-one match-ups?
GARRETT SICKELS: I think the big thing for us, our whole front four. If you're double teaming Austin, someone else is going to be free. They only have five offensive linemen in the back, so they have to worry about Zettel, AJ and Carl. So the way those guys have been playing, I've been able to get some one on ones and make plays. But vice versa, if I get double teamed, they'll get free. So I think it just depends on who is getting double teamed each play.
Q. What is the key to staying fresh in the triple option offense?
GARRETT SICKELS: I think the big thing for us is the way you practice. We practice hard every play. The games are easier. That's Franklin's philosophy. If we practice hard every play, the games will take care of themselves. Also the triple option. We just have to be disciplined. Everyone has to take care of their job. Defensive line, linebackers in the back end. We have to do our job every play and we should be fine.
Q. It seems like you have a really good step to the inside on the inside rush. Can you describe? Have you always had that? Do you have to develop that?
GARRETT SICKELS: I think the big thing for me is I'm more of a quicker guy. So I guess in film I've been good rushing the outside. So tackles, I have to focus on that. Sometimes if they set too high, I'm able to get underneath. Just practice it, I guess, and Spence has done a good job developing all of our ends to be able to do good things.
Q. What's it like taking coaching from a guy like Spencer? We have a conference call with him Thursday, and I'm sure everybody's looking forward to that one.
GARRETT SICKELS: Yeah, Spence just brings intensity. He's the same guy you get in the videos. He's always loud. He's always going to have a great attitude. He's always going to liven practices up. Some of the guys if we come out flat, he's going to get in our face and practice just turns around. But he's definitely a fun coach to play for, absolutely.
Q. So what you described in the opening about double teaming other players and then other players get free, it seems like it's kind of a no-win situation for an opposing offense there. Does that get kind of fun to be out there on the field realizing that someone's going to be free? When you guys hit that momentum, what's that feeling like?
GARRETT SICKELS: I mean, with our front four going into the season we knew how good AJ was and how good Carl is going to be, and how good we were going to be up front. But it's one of those things you don't know who is going to get double teamed, so you can't think about being free. You have to attack each play like you're going to get double teamed or go hard every play, because when you're not ready for it and you're not double teamed, you just have to go hard and make the best of every play.
Q. You guys lead the nation in sacks, which obviously means you know what you're doing. But at the same time 11 of those 18 sacks have come in the fourth quarter. Are you happy with how that pass rush has been earlier in the game? Maybe in times at different points in the game or is it just how it's worked out?
GARRETT SICKELS: I just think it's how the game goes too. With pass rushing it really comes down to sizing up the guy across from you. You have to know you're really feeling them out and stuff like that. It also speaks for how good our rotation is and how much stuff we have.
When we get 11 of 18 sacks in the fourth quarter, that shows we're wearing down teams because we're so fresh. When you're able to get 11 of 18 sacks on the year in the fourth quarter, that just shows we're in good shape.
Q. Coach Franklin just said that Ryan Buchholz is going to move inside for you guys long-term. So we haven't seen Buchholz play this year, probably won't. How has he been acclimating in practice, and what do you like about him?
GARRETT SICKELS: Buchholz is a guy that we always joke with him because our D-line we're kind of a loud bunch. He's always kind of the quiet one. He came in day one ready to work. He's always worked hard. He's a big guy and he takes coaching very well. He works on everything after practice. He's got great work ethic, and I think down the road he's going to be a great ballplayer.
Q. Who is the loudest?
GARRETT SICKELS: Antoine White's pretty funny. Yeah, Antoine White's a character.
Q. Can you tell us about some of the young offensive linemen you face in practice every day on the foreign team? What they bring to the table? Because we don't get a chance to see that.
GARRETT SICKELS: I think the first thing is it's all about Sterling. Sterling is just a huge body, and with the hair he's like seven-feet tall or something like that. But he's just a big kid. He gets in your way. I don't really do much with Ryan Bates because he's more of the inside guys.
But Sterling has been playing well, and Chasz Wright, he's another big guy, and he's definitely going to get in people's way. I go against those guys. That's about it.
Q. If there was one player that you could pick out from the Penn State offense that you would not want to go up against as an opponent, who would that player be?
GARRETT SICKELS: Hmm. This year?
Q. Yeah, this year.
GARRETT SICKELS: Probably like the offensive line or anyone?
Q. Just anyone.
GARRETT SICKELS: Yeah, probably Saquon.
GARRETT SICKELS: He's just a strong dude.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports