Penn State was a 25 point underdog, and mostly written off ahead of Saturday's season finale with No. 15 Wisconsin. But with plenty of highs and a few lows, the Lions left Camp Randall victorious, 31-24, to finish their 2013 season 7-5.
The High Five
Hack Attack: Quarterback Christian Hackenberg has certainly has his own highs and lows in 2013, but rarely was there a low Saturday. The freshman completed 21 of 30 passes for 339 yards and four touchdowns. His third gave Penn State the lead for good at 21-14, and the fourth provided insurance that wasn't needed on a 59-yard strike to Geno Lewis. But his second, in the dying moments of the second half, was perhaps the biggest. Wisconsin left Lewis uncovered on the goal line, and an alert Hackenberg found him, evening the game at 14 and giving State the momentum back before the break.
Finding Lewis: The redshirt freshman receiver has faced his fair share of struggles converting to receiver after a high school career filled with playing quarterback, but he was terrific Saturday. Lewis hauled in three passes for 91 yards and a pair of scores.
Standing Tall: The offensive line had a particular area of concern (we'll get to that later) but for the most part, the unit was cohesive, allowing Hackenberg plenty of time to throw while never allowing a sack against a multi-facet Wisconsin front seven. Besides protecting its quarterback, the line surged its backfield for 126 rushing yards, including 115 from Zach Zwinak, and cleared out space for Zwinak to take a late fourth quarter 3rd and 9 draw 62-yards.
Pick Squad: Defensive coordinator John Butler's secondary gave up a few chunk plays Saturday, there is no denying that. But for the most part, it answered the bell when it needed to, intercepting Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave three times, including Ryan Keiser's pick to seal the deal. C.J. Olaniyan also had an interception, setting up a 28-yard field-goal from Sam Ficken, while Trevor Williams interception to open the fourth quarter snare led to Hackenberg's 59-yard pitch and catch to Lewis.
Road Woes No More: Outside of a neutral site victory over Syracuse to open the season, Penn State had not won away from Beaver Stadium, nor a true road game, since beating Purdue in West Lafayette 34-9 last November. That streak ended Saturday, of course, by upsetting the Badgers.
No damage: Penn State ended its two-game streak of allowing a kick return touchdown, as the Lions slightly revamped kick coverage unit allowed just 13 yards per kick return.
The Low Five
Ficken Follies: At times, Penn State placekicker Sam Ficken has shown marked improvement from his early struggles in 2012. But at other moments, he's shown regression. Saturday, there was one too many of those moments. The State booter was just 1 of 3 on field goal attempts, connecting on a 28-yarder but having a 34-yard try blocked before missing a late 31-yard attempt wide right.
Jump Around: Usually reserved for the rowdy Wisconsin student section, Penn State's offensive line did more jumping than usual, as it was flagged for eight false start penalties. The Lions were flagged for just nine penalties total, and tackle Donovan Smith was charged with at least three, and possibly four of them himself.
Late Leeriness: Though Penn State never seemed completely at risk of losing its lead, it certainly gave Wisconsin reason for hope. After Lewis' second touchdown grab put the visitors up 31-14, it allowed the Badgers to cut its lead to 10 with 5:38 left in the tilt, and later surrendered a career long 48-yard field goal to Jack Russell that dwindled the lead to seven. Outside of Zwinak's 62-yard scamper, State produced little offensively in the final portion of the quarter.
Aerial Attack: Ok, a brief reprieve can be given seeing the above high of three interceptions, but State still struggled to stall an at times incompetent Stave, who finished with 339 yards passing on a 29 of 53 day that included three touchdown strikes. Stave's 20-yard strike to Jeff Duckworth with five minutes and change to play before halftime was particularly glaring for the Lions secondary.
Beat but not broken: It's tough to find too many flaws in Penn State's defensive effort, especially since it halted a vaunted Wisconsin ground attack to just 120 total yards. But it knew coming in that it would have to keep track of Wisconsin star receiver Jared Abbrederis, and while it kept him out of the endzone, the Lions allowed him to catch 12 passed for 135 yards.