Penn State hangs on, upsets No. 14 Wisconsin 31-24

A bright future for Penn State emerged on a cool, crisp day in

the Midwest.

Strong-armed freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg figures

to only improve for the Nittany Lions.

Hackenberg played with the poise and touch of a seasoned

veteran, throwing for 339 yards and four touchdowns, and Penn State

pounced on a slew of Badgers blunders before holding off a late

rally to upset No. 14 Wisconsin 31-24 on Saturday.

”He really stepped up in a big way, and words can’t describe

how thankful I am to that guy,” said offensive lineman and senior

leader John Urschel.

An up-and-down season – from the 20-point loss at Indiana to the

overtime win over Michigan – ended on a high note in the most

unlikely of places, at Camp Randall Stadium on Senior Day against a

Wisconsin team on the cusp of eligibility for an at-large berth in

a Bowl Championship Series game.

Say goodbye to the BCS, Badgers.

”That’s not going to happen and so we’ll move forward. Such is

life,” coach Gary Andersen said. ”The way we played today and the

way I coached them, obviously, we don’t deserve to have that

opportunity. It’s gone now.”

Two more freshmen had big days for Penn State (7-5, 4-4 Big

Ten). Eugene Lewis finished with 91 yards and two touchdowns on

three catches, including a 59-yarder with 13 minutes to go to give

the Nittany Lions a 31-14 lead. Adam Breneman had 78 yards on three

receptions, including a 68-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown that

set the tone for the day on the game’s opening drive.

The Nittany Lions secured a statement win against a team that

had been dominant all year at home. They were listed as 24-point

underdogs among odds-makers, and prognosticators consistently

predicted a Badgers blowout.

Coach Bill O’Brien made sure his players knew about their

underdog status all week. A sizable chip was planted on the Nittany

Lions’ collective shoulders.

”I’m not allowed to talk about that even though it seems like a

lot of you guys thought it was the right line,” O’Brien told

reporters after the game. ”You’re wrong.”

Joel Stave was 29 of 53 for 339 yards and three touchdowns for

Wisconsin (9-3, 6-2), though Penn State capitalized on three

second-half interceptions, turning one into Lewis’ long TD.

The Badgers scored 10 points in a span of 1:25 of the fourth

quarter, capped by a 48-yard field goal by Jack Russell with 4:13

left to get within a score. Sam Ficken’s 31-yard field-goal try

went wide right with 31 seconds left to give the Badgers one more

chance.

But a Hail Mary attempt by Stave was intercepted by Ryan Keiser

in the end zone with 1 second left.

”Both elation and relief,” linebacker Mike Hull said in

describing the moment. ”We made it closer than we had to, but we

got the win and that’s all that matters.”

Penn State clinched a winning season and did it on the road,

where they had struggled all year in Big Ten play. That’s quite an

accomplishment for a program that’s typically dressed about 60

recruited scholarship players as a result of NCAA sanctions

resulting from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

O’Brien’s team can’t go to a bowl game because of the sanctions.

But Penn State will nevertheless ride into the offseason on a high

note for a second straight year after a win over the Badgers. Penn

State beat Wisconsin 24-21 in an overtime thriller to end the 2012

season.

The Badgers only have themselves to blame. They were

uncharacteristically prone to mental errors and mistakes.

”I can’t sit back and say we had a bad week of practice, can’t

sit back and say I didn’t feel like we were prepared,” Andersen

said. ”I’m going to say it again, I give a lot of credit to Penn

State.”

A high pass from Stave off the fingertips of Jared Abbrederis

was picked off by Trevor Williams, who returned it 33 yards to the

Penn State 38. Three plays later, Hackenberg let go a deep pass

after absorbing a hit from Brendan Kelly that landed in the arms of

a streaking Lewis over double coverage for a touchdown and 31-14

lead in the fourth.

A Wisconsin defense that hadn’t allowed a play longer than 51

yards entering Saturday allowed an astounding four for at least 52

against Penn State.

Hackenberg was 13 of 16 for 221 yards and two touchdowns alone

in the first half, the second coming to a wide-open Lewis from 3

yards.

Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP