The Penn State Nittany Lions shocked the No. 18 Michigan Wolverines in quadruple overtime for a 43-40 victory on Saturday evening. At the end of regulation, Christian Hackenberg led a game-tying touchdown drive that started with 50 seconds to go and the ball on the Penn State 20 yard line. The two teams traded blows all game, and in the fourth and final overtime, Bill Belton punched in a two-yard touchdown run to seal one of the most improbable victories in Penn State history.
Here’s what we learned about the Nittany Lions in Saturday’s game:
Christian Hackenberg is the real deal.
We already knew this. Hackenberg proved his worth on more than one occasion this season, but his performance on the Nittany Lions’ game-tying drive solidified the notion that Hack is the real deal. It certainly helps that he has some great receiving options around him in Allen Robinson, Brandon Felder, Jesse James, and others, but the throw he made to Robinson on the 1-yard line with 27 seconds remaining in regulation was as ballsy as it gets. Luckily, it paid off big time for Penn State.
“It’s Michigan-Penn State,” Hackenberg said. “These are the type of games that we live for. It’s a great opponent. We fought hard. They fought hard. But the ball rolled our way. I just tried to approach it one play at a time and execute.”
Hackenberg made his share of mistakes, throwing two interceptions, but his three touchdown passes and one touchdown run played a huge part in a shocking Penn State victory.
This team has heart and resiliency.
There is no doubt that the 2012 Penn State football team had those two traits. After a shocking 44-24 road loss to the Indiana Hoosiers last week, some may have questioned whether or not that demeanor has carried over to the 2013 team. Nobody will be questioning that after yesterday.
“Any time you win a game like this there’s a little bit of luck involved,” O’Brien said. “But when I’m talking about resilient — I’ll give you a great example. We fumble the reverse and our defense holds them and we block the field goal or alter the field goal. The kids that I’m around here see it as an opportunity to go out and try to stop them when something goes wrong.These guys are resilient guys.”
Bill Belton is a capable feature running back.
After Zach Zwinak fumbled on the first play of the second half, allowing Michigan to score a touchdown, Belton was thrust into the spotlight. O’Brien benched Zwinak for the rest of the game and Belton was the only running back to play in the second half and overtime. He made the most of the opportunity, running strong and eventually scoring the game-winning touchdown.
What might have been an even bigger play was Belton’s conversion on a 4th-and-inches in quadruple overtime to keep the game alive.
“It was the fourth overtime and I felt like it was time for somebody to win the game,” O’Brien said of his decision to go for it on fourth down. “We could keep trading field goals back and forth, but I think if Brady [Hoke] was in that situation he’d go for it too. It was obviously one of [Belton’s] better games in his career. I can’t say enough about him. He’s grown up a lot on the field and off the field. I think the world of that kid.”
“When the line washed everything down, I saw the hole,” Belton said. “It was a slow-developing play, but I knew I was going to get the yard. It was great that coach had confidence in me and I had confidence that I’d be able to get the one yard that I needed. You just have to go into it confident. I was raised to know that I’m able to do everything. When I was younger everything didn’t go my way, but my parents continued to tell me that I can do everything and to have confidence in myself.”
The home field advantage is alive and well.
There’s something about 107,884 fans all decked in white cheering for the Nittany Lions that is truly special. When Michigan’s offense was on the field, the crowd was rowdy all night long. The “We Are!” chants were as loud as I’ve ever heard them. Penn State fans showed why they are arguably the best in the country, and why Beaver Stadium is such an intimidating place to play.
“You know, white out, Beaver Stadium, night game, under the lights, that’s something special,” offensive lineman John Urschel said. “It really means a lot to me and our team how the fans have stayed behind us and supported us. We appreciate all the support they give us. We’re thankful to have the best fans in the country.”