Penn State's Hackenberg, Johnson undecided on futures


Penn State's Hackenberg, Johnson undecided on futures

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Two of Penn State's best players are considering their NFL draft potential and whether to return next season.

For now, Christian Hackenberg and Austin Johnson are preparing for Penn State's game against Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Jan. 2.

Both players have remained consistent on the topic throughout the season. They're still waiting to hear back from the NFL Draft Advisory Board and have met with coach James Franklin to map out a timeline to announce their intentions.

"We want to have a plan and be organized with whatever we decide," Franklin said. "It's not going to be someone coming out and throwing something out midweek on a tweet. It's going to be something we do together and do it the way they want it to be done."

Hackenberg said the board's analysis of him won't be the determining factor in his decision. Instead, he'll sit down with family and consider multiple factors after the bowl game.

"I think it's obviously going to be a tool in that decision when that time comes. But again, right now I think it's really just going down and making sure we execute against Georgia," Hackenberg said.

Hackenberg's completion percentage has fallen each year following former coach Bill O'Brien's departure after Hackenberg's freshman season. Hackenberg completed 58.9 percent of his passes with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a freshman. He completed 55.8 percent of his throws last season, his first under Franklin, and just 53.3 this season.

Johnson's stock has improved with more exposure in the middle of a defense that has been among the best in the country the last two seasons.

Johnson was the primary run-stuffer each of the last two seasons and finished with 119 tackles and 6 1/2 sacks in that span. Often lining up directly over opposing centers, Johnson demanded double teams that freed up fellow defensive tackle Anthony Zettel and ends Garrett Sickels and Carl Nassib. Penn State finished 14th in total defense, and Nassib led the country with 15.5 sacks.

Other than communication with his mother, who keeps up on her son's draft stock, Johnson said he isn't worried about the future.

"I really don't pay that much attention to it," Johnson said before the regular-season finale. "She sends me stuff, I look at it, and just kind of keep on going on about my day. It's about this team. This is where I am right now."

At least one of their coaches understands the draft-decision process.

Wide receivers coach Josh Gattis inquired about his own draft stock as a junior at Wake Forest and went on to play two seasons for the Chicago Bears after being drafted in the fifth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2007. The board returned more potential outcomes compared to now, where its members identify only players with first- or second-round potential. All others are advised to stay in school.

"Each kid has to sit down and weigh their best interests, not only from football, their academic and their social life and family life structures at that point," Gattis said. "It's a stressful time for a lot of kids because they want to make the best decision and you can imagine, 19-, 20-year-old kids getting pulled in a lot of different directions, not necessarily are they all for the benefit of the kid."

Johnson has earned a degree from Penn State and is set to graduate this weekend. Hackenberg said he is on pace to graduate a semester early, which could happen as soon as this summer.

Hackenberg recently meet with new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. He was intrigued by Moorhead's looming implementation of the spread offense.

"I've never really ran what was labeled a spread offense ever in my life, so I was kind of curious how it worked," Hackenberg said. "It was pretty cool how he broke it down and the intricacies with it and how he teaches it to his guys."

Saint Joseph's comeback bid comes up short vs. Florida

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Saint Joseph's comeback bid comes up short vs. Florida

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Keyontae Johnson saw Florida’s big lead shrink to almost nothing in the final minute. He made sure his teammates didn’t let this one get away from the Gators.

Johnson had a career-high 22 points to lead the Gators to a 70-62 victory over Saint Joseph’s at the Charleston Classic, playing without ejected leading scorer Kerry Blackshear Jr. on Thursday. Not that it came easily as Florida (3-2) saw its 18-point lead cut to 64-62 in the final minute.

“We just communicated, told everyone to stay together,” Johnson said. “We stayed locked in.”

The focus proved the difference as Florida hit six foul shots down the stretch while Saint Joseph’s missed two shots and committed a pair of turnovers.

“Down the stretch, I thought we showed a tremendous toughness,” Florida coach Mike White said.

The Gators needed it with Blackshear missing almost all of the game. He played three minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls. Then he was thrown out when he was battling underneath and his elbow looked like it hit Saint Joseph’s guard Taylor Funk. Blackshear, who came in averaging 14 points and 12 boards, was called for a flagrant two foul and sent off the court.

Blackshear’s departure seemed to energize the Hawks (2-3), who trailed 43-27 when the Florida star left the court. That’s when St. Joseph’s went on a 29-16 spurt to cut it to three points on Funk’s basket with six minutes left.

But Johnson followed with a basket and Andrew Nembhard made another to extend the lead.

St. Joseph’s had one last charge, slicing things to 64-62 on Ryan Daly’s layup in the final minute. The Hawks had several chances to tighten things, but could not. “We’re not going to go down easy,” Daly said.

Florida will take on Miami here Friday for a spot in the Charleston Classic finals.

The Hawks face Missouri State on Friday.

Johnson also had a game-high 12 rebounds. Nembhard added 16 points.

Florida took control quickly and appeared to make this a runaway as Noah Locke had two 3-pointers and Nembhard also hit one from behind the arc as the Gators went ahead 11-2 less than two minutes in and steadily built its lead.

St. Joseph’s had hit 34 first-half 3s combined its first four games. It made just one of its 14 long-range attempts this time as it fell behind.

Daly led the Hawks with 25 points.

Swider scores 26, No. 17 Villanova routs MTSU 98-69

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Swider scores 26, No. 17 Villanova routs MTSU 98-69

CONWAY, S.C. -- It’s been awhile since No. 17 Villanova shot this well from long range. Cole Swider has never scored like this.

Swider scored a career-high 26 points with six 3-pointers, and the Wildcats routed Middle Tennessee 98-69 on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Myrtle Beach Invitational.

Collin Gillespie added 16 points and hit four 3s, Justin Moore finished with 15 points and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had 11 rebounds to help Villanova (3-1) - which never trailed, led by 35 and shot 57% while winning its second straight following a 25-point loss at No. 10 Ohio State.

And yet, another number in the box score caught coach Jay Wright’s eye - Swider’s seven rebounds.

“He’s more than just a shooter,” Wright said.

And the Wildcats have plenty of those. They made 18 3s - one shy of the school record, and their most since they also had 18 in a victory over Kansas at the 2018 Final Four.

“They have elite size with great shooters,” Middle Tennessee coach Nick McDevitt said, “and any short close-out or decent close-out results in three points.”

Eleven of them came during a first-half barrage that pushed the lead well into the 20s. Swider hit his fifth 3 from the corner shortly before the buzzer to put the Wildcats up 53-28 at halftime.

Saddiq Bey then took the lead to 30 with a 3-pointer two minutes into the second half.

Donovan Sims scored 18 points and C.J. Jones had 16 for the Blue Raiders (3-2). Leading scorer Antonio Green, averaging 23.5 points going into the game, finished with four points on 1-of-7 shooting while dealing with foul trouble.

“They’ve got a lot of interchangeable parts, so they were switching just to never let him see space,” McDevitt said.