Column: Gardner > Hackenberg
One could say that comparing Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner and Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg is like comparing apples and oranges. But even that wouldn't explain just how different these two quarterbacks are.
Gardner's best attribute is his speed. Like many college signal callers before him, he can and does use his athleticism to simply run around opposing tacklers. Generally speaking, if his first option isn't wide open, Gardner will immediately take off running. Compare this to Hackenberg who hasn't had positive yardage rushing in a game all season.
The advantage that the Penn State QB does have is his decision making. Hackenberg is no Peyton Manning when it comes to limiting interceptions, but he blows Gardner out of the water in this regard.
Hackenberg is the only Penn State freshman quarterback in the history of the program to throw less than five interceptions in his first five games as a starter. Meanwhile, Gardner has struggled this season with picks. He is the only QB in the Big Ten to toss as many interceptions as touchdowns.
Being a junior, Gardner also has the experience advantage over Hackenberg. This fact, however, is a little deceiving. Because of current Jacksonville Jaguars “offensive weapon” and former Wolverines QB Denard Robinson, Hackenberg has already racked up more passing attempts this season than Gardner had over the first three years of his career combined.
The results of these two when they do pass are very similar. Hackenberg does have the edge in terms of total yardage, but this fact is mostly due to Penn State coach Bill O'Brien's aggressive play calling.
Penn State has gone to the air a lot more often than Michigan this season. In fact, the Nittany Lions are third in the Big Ten in terms of passing attempts this season, while the Wolverines rank dead last.
As discussed before, Hackenberg holds the clear interception advantage over Gardner. However, limiting incompletions is a whole different story. The quarterback's completion percentages are separated by just .3%.
It's obvious that Michigan has the better team than Penn State; The Wolverines have started the season 5-0 compared to Penn State's 3-2. But which QB has had a bigger factor on their team as a whole? I believe Gardner's rushing has certainly made him the more impactful between the two.
The Michigan QB's explosiveness makes it very difficult for opposing coordinators to control the Wolverine attack. Gardner has a rush over ten yards in every game this season. He's rushed over 50 yards in all but one game so far this season. He has also scored a rushing touchdown in every game and has six rushing TDs in total.
In the current landscape of college football it is imperative to have a QB who can run and pass. Sometimes even having the threat of a run present in the minds of the defense is as good as being a great rusher. This threat of a rush puts everything out of whack defensively.
One of the main selling points of Penn State to recruits is its pro-style offense. Many young players see college as a journey, not a destination. Top recruits pick schools that are going to send them to the NFL.
This is the Reason Hackenberg even came to Penn State. He wants the best opportunity to showcase himself as a premier offensive threat. But he represents a fundamental problem that Penn State has stubbornly held on to. And The Nittany Lions are severely missing the boat on this one.
There is a shift happening in college football from that pro-style offense to the spread, run-around-like-a-chicken-with-it’s-head-cut-off offense. And the teams that are adapting are having success.
Sure, Alabama has kept its pro-style offense in tact and has more than succeeded with it. But do you really think Penn State has the talent to afford to “fight the power” like Alabama? The Last time Penn State was successful was 2005. And guess what, their starting QB that year was Michael Robinson. The only true two-dimensional threat in Penn State history.
Michigan HAS made the shift, and that's why they've jumped ahead of Penn State recently. Gone are the days of Tom Brady and the slow QB system. The Wolverines have had a speedster as their signal caller the last 7 years and look at the success they've had. For Penn State, It's adapt or die, and I'll take Devin Gardner every time over Christian Hackenberg.
Brendan May is a freshman majoring in journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Contributors
Freshman / Journalism
Ever since my little league baseball coach took the bat out of my hands because I “lack basic motor skills,” (Or something), I’ve been determined to find a way to replicate the “high” that is being involved with sports at a competitive level. Pretty much, I’m an addict for sports. The best way to chase the athletic dragon is through sportscasting. I have attended Hofstra University’s Sports Broadcasting Camp for three years, and was invited to work at the camp in the summer of 2013. I have met and interviewed legends such as Knick’s broadcaster Mike Breen, Islander’s legend Mike Bossy, and former World Series Champ Dontrelle Willis. I currently host Big Apple Sports with John McHugh and write for ComRadio’s sports section.