In what has been the epitome of an "up-and-down" season, Penn State finally put together a complete game in Saturday's win against Wisconsin.
Freshman phenom quarterback Christian Hackenberg was at the center of the Nittany Lions' success. Surrounding him were fellow freshmen playmakers on both sides of the ball. Freshmen who will make up the core of this young team going forward.
In what was arguably his best game, Hackenberg passed for 339 yards and four touchdowns against a Wisconsin defense that had allowed more than 200 yards passing in just three games this year. Three of those touchdowns were to freshmen Adam Breneman (1) and Geno Lewis (2). The fourth was to Jesse James, who is just a sophomore.
All season, Bill O'Brien's squad has battled with youth and inexperience. The benefit of that is eventually those young players become seasoned. Adam Breneman's emergence over the last few weeks is a perfect example, climaxing with his 68-yard touchdown reception in the first drive against the Badgers.
Breneman had five catches in the first seven weeks. He had 10 in the last five games.
Freshman linebacker Brandon Bell climbed and even steeper hill this year. After seeing time primarily on special teams, Bell amassed just two tackles in the first six weeks. After forcing a fumble in a six tackle performance against Nebraska, he totaled another six tackles against Wisconsin and forced an interception with a hit on quarterback Joel Stave.
Really excited to see Brandon Bell and Austin Johnson the next couple of years #PennState— Ryan Stevens (@RyanAStevens) November 30, 2013
Perhaps the most impressive and important emergence was that of redshirt freshman wide receiver Geno Lewis.
People want to know who will catch passes whenever Allen Robinson is gone. Geno Lewis volunteers as tribute.— Ben Jones (@Ben_Jones88) November 30, 2013
After failing to catch a pass in five games this year, Lewis caught seven passes in the last three games, including a 91-yard, two-touchdown performance in the win at Camp Randall Stadium. There is a good chance that Lewis could enter the 2014 season as the No. 1 receiver for Penn State.
When the Nittany Lions line up in Ireland to open up the 2014 season, there are going to be many new faces. Gone will be leaders like Glenn Carson, John Urschel and DaQuan Jones.
Fortunately for Nittany Nation, this team showed against Wisconsin that the future is bright and this year, through the ups and downs, could serve as the foundation of something really special in the near future.