STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - The frustration over the inability of the Penn State offense to move the football consistently bubbled over on the sideline at times this season, with quarterback Christian Hackenberg and offensive coordinator John Donovan at the center of the discord.
It was particularly evident during the Nov. 1 game against Maryland, a 20-19 loss, when Hackenberg appeared to have animated discussions with Donovan. Head coach James Franklin said a few days later he felt there were areas that his sophomore leader "can handle better."
Donovan, speaking publicly for the first time since the preseason at the Nittany Lions' Pinstripe Bowl media day, said Saturday he understood the 19-year-old Hackenberg was showing his frustration because "he wants to win. That's the bottom line. He's a competitive son of a gun."
However, Donovan would like to see his quarterback tone down his displays of discontent.
"He's just a competitive guy that gets his juices flowing," he said. "He can get frustrated at times. We get it. There are certain ways you've got to handle yourself because you know the camera's on you or the team's looking at you, and you need to be positive when you need to be positive, and you can't always show frustration.
"There's times when, hey, you've got to be who you are and show your emotions. But there are times where you've got to understand that you've got to keep it in check. He'll learn that. He will. He'll just get better."
Hackenberg was not present at media day because of "a scheduled family event" that was planned before Saturday's session was set, spokesman Jeff Nelson said.
After the Maryland game, Hackenberg said his actions were in "the heat of the moment" and added he had a "ton of respect" for Donovan and quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne.
The Penn State offense was a major disappointment in 2014. The unit finished last in the Big Ten and near the bottom of FBS in points scored (19.8 per game), rushing offense (103.6 yards per game), and total offense (325.5-yard average).
Hackenberg's statistics were down from his freshman season in completion percentage (58.9 percent to 54.4), average passing yards (246.3 to 217.2), and touchdown throws (20 to eight), while his interceptions increased (10 to 15). However, he was sacked 42 times.
Donovan noted that inexperience on the offensive line and at wide receiver contributed to the offense's poor performance.
"You're going to go through that." he said. "You're going to get teams that have a lot of experience and some teams that don't. You've got to try to find a way. But long story short, we don't have a true exceptional veteran difference-maker to try to get him the ball so we've got to do whatever we've got to do per defense, per week."
Donovan also discussed the challenges of keeping the offense together, particularly the younger players who could have been swayed by what they read on social media.
"They're a young group, and they're going to get influenced," he said. "You have to be able to keep it tight and keep it within that [meeting] room. There are two things, the experience of on the field and the experience of keeping the noise outside and not letting it affect you."
Tickets going fast. Penn State sold out its original student allotment of 750 tickets, plus another 545 it received from officials of the Pinstripe Bowl, in less than three hours Saturday.