Penn State Football: 5 Best Moments of 2013
In Bill O'Brien's second season as head coach, the Penn State Nittany Lions certainly had their fair share of ups and downs in 2013.
There were the memorable games like Michigan and Wisconsin; moments that seemed to put Penn State back on the map. Then there were the frustrating times—like Indiana and Minnesota—that fans longed to forget.
A 7-5 record to finish the season was a slight step back from the 8-4 campaign of 2012. But considering what the program has been through the last two years, it's still something to be proud of.
After every year, it's nice to look back on some of the top plays that were made. Without further ado, here are the five best moments from Penn State's 2013 season.
5. Christian Hackenberg Goes Deep Against Syracuse
While it wasn't his first career touchdown pass, it was his first "home run ball."
A starter in his first collegiate game, Christian Hackenberg did not get off to a fast start. He was without star wide receiver Allen Robinson for the entire first half, and the Nittany Lions headed to locker room having kicked only two field goals.
Up six points with just under 12 minutes left in the game, Penn State needed to add some insurance to their lead. On 1st-and-10, Hackenberg dropped back and fired a deep ball to wide receiver Geno Lewis. Lewis slipped by both Brandon Reddish and Jeremi Wilkes of Syracuse, and Hackenberg delivered a near-perfect pass to hit him for the score.
This moment finds a spot on the list because it was the first of many big plays that Hackenberg made during his freshman season. Penn State fans can expect a lot more of these in the coming years.
Hackenberg would go on to finish the game by throwing for 273 yards and two touchdowns. The Nittany Lions won the game, 23-17.
4. Ryan Keiser's Interception Seals the Win
It was a play that bailed Penn State out of a game they had no business losing.
The Nittany Lions were only a game removed from their beatdown at the hands of Ohio State. A loss to Illinois—a Big Ten team on a 17-game conference losing streak—would only make matters worse.
After taking a 14-0 lead in the first half, Penn State allowed Illinois to score 17 unanswered points and take control late in the fourth quarter. The Nittany Lions would eventually send the game into overtime courtesy of a Sam Ficken field goal.
Once in overtime, Christian Hackenberg connected with Kyle Carter on the first possession to give Penn State a 24-17 lead. Illinois would then get their shot, but it wouldn't last long.
On the first play, Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase looked to connect with wide receiver Spencer Harris in the end zone. Penn State cornerback Adrian Amos deflected the pass on arrival, which ended up in the arms of safety Ryan Keiser to seal the victory.
This was a big moment for the Nittany Lions, who avoided losing their second straight game. It was also nice to beat Illinois head coach Tim Beckman, who once tried to poach Penn State players when they could freely transfer after the sanctions.
3. Blocked Field Goal vs. Michigan
In front of a "White House" crowd against the No. 18 Michigan Wolverines, Penn State looked to be on the verge of defeat.
After coming back to tie the game late, the Nittany Lions had the first possession to start off overtime. They squandered their opportunity for points, as Sam Ficken missed a 40-yard field goal.
Michigan would then get their shot, running a few plays before setting up for a 40-yard try of their own. The fate of Penn State fell on the foot of Michigan's Brendan Gibbons.
Gibbons had converted four of his five field-goal attempts on the season up until this moment. His only miss was a 52-yard attempt to try to beat the Nittany Lions at the end of regulation.
With the game on the line, Gibbons' kick was blocked by defensive tackle Kyle Baublitz, sending the game into a second overtime. The Nittany Lions had new life.
Baublitz's play saved Penn State from a crushing loss in their biggest home game of the season. It took four overtimes, but the Nittany Lions would eventually win, 43-40.
2. Victory over Wisconsin
While a win encompasses more than just a single play, the Wisconsin game is high up on the list more so because of what happened afterwards.
In the last game of the year, Penn State traveled to play Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin was ranked 14th in the country at the time, and the 9-2 Badgers would improve their chances at a BCS bowl berth with a win. The Nittany Lions were 24-point underdogs against a team riding a six-game winning streak.
But that's why you play the game. Christian Hackenberg had one of the best games of his career, throwing for 339 yards and four touchdowns. Penn State was able to hold off a late surge by the Badgers and escape with a 31-24 victory.
This moment is No. 2 on the list because it saved Penn State from ending the season at 6-6. It gave them momentum heading into the offseason, while continuing to prove they could complete with the Big Ten's elite despite the sanctions.
Bill O'Brien, who had taken offense to Vegas' line, had a simple message for his team in the locker room.
"They said that we were 24-point underdogs," he said. "What are they going to say now?"
1. Allen Robinson's Hail Mary Catch
Penn State fans will remember this play for a very long time.
After leading 21-10 at half, Penn State allowed Michigan to climb back in the second half and take the lead late in the game. Until this point, the Nittany Lions hadn't done much of anything offensively in the later portion of the game.
Down by a touchdown with 35 seconds left and no timeouts, Penn State was 37 yards away from tying the game. Christian Hackenberg lofted a pass up to wide receiver Allen Robinson, who out-jumped Michigan's Channing Stribling to make the catch.
With the ball on the 1-yard line, Hackenberg ran a sneak to tie the game. Penn State would go on to win, 43-40, in quadruple overtime.
Robinson's catch was good enough to be the No. 1 play on SportCenter's Top 10 later that night. It was one of a handful of moments that put Robinson on the nation's radar this year.
The kind of athleticism it takes to make a play like this is mind-boggling. The NFL could see that athleticism sooner rather than later if Robinson chooses to enter the 2014 NFL draft.