Final: Penn State 37, San Diego State 21

Telling stat: Christian Hackenberg’s first 150-plus passing yard game

Finally, finally, finally. Hackenberg looked comfortable, confident and decisive. His 296 passing yards were more than double his previous high this season. His three touchdown passes were three times as many as the one he had. That was the Hackenberg we saw in the Pinstripe Bowl. Credit the offensive line for again keeping Hackenberg upright and not letting the Lions play down to their competition. Hack might be back.  

Key play: Austin Johnson returns fumble 74 yards for TD

You know, it’s never a bad thing when your 323-pound defensive tackle can run 74 yards. It’s even better when that 71-yard run ends with a touchdown. Instead of the Aztecs rallying for a potential go-ahead  touchdown, Johnson decided to take matters into his own hands. Carl Nassib forced a fumble on Max Smith and returned it for the score. In terms of game-changing plays, it doesn’t get much bigger than that. Nassib definitely deserves credit for the assist.

Worth noting:

-Anthony Zettel’s big, emotional day

The Penn State defensive tackle elected to play on Saturday after his father died on Friday. He had been driving back to Michigan after games to be with his family, and there was talk that maybe he would understandably be there on Saturday. But as usual, Zettel delivered on the field. He had 2.5 tackles for loss, a fumble recovery, have a sack and a pass breakup. It was a classic Zettel performance on a day where the defensive line delivered the effort of the day. If not for Penn State’s struggles on special teams, the score would’ve reflected how dominant Zettel and the Lions were.

-Penn State RB’s depleted

Just as you’re feeling great about the Penn State offense, the emerging running game was decimated. Saquon Barkley had highlight reel touchdown but went down with an ankle injury. To make matters worse, Akeel Lynch and Marcus Allen both went down, too. It was a grind for the Penn State running game in the second half. The focus will obviously be on Barkley, who has been the Big Ten Freshman of the Year to this point. If he’s to miss any time, it’ll be a major blow for the Lions offense.

What it means: This team really can score

We were all waiting for that game where we saw the Lions’ playmaking ability on both sides of the ball. The expectation for this team was that every day would look like Saturday. Hackenberg would rock back and fire, the defense would be stout and make highlight reel plays, and the Lions would insert itself into top-25 consideration. It was only San Diego State, but for a team that was beating itself before, it no longer appears to be doing that.