Eighty yards. Fifty seconds. Zero timeouts.
Go get ‘em, freshman.
Christian Hackenberg and his Penn State offense were faced with the seemingly impossible task of tying the game against Michigan after the Wolverines milked the clock to under a minute left in regulation, while leading 34-27. But, the 18-year-old quarterback orchestrated an incredibly efficient scoring drive in just 27 seconds to force overtime in the Nittany Lions’ eventual 43-40 quadruple overtime win.
Hackenberg calmly completed passes of 14, 29 and 36 yards, respectively, to set up a one-yard quarterback sneak to culminate the drive.
First, the quarterback — who bounced back from throwing two interceptions earlier in the game to finish with 305 yards and three passing touchdowns — found Robinson for a sideline grab that was originally ruled out of play on the field before being overturned.
Next, Brandon Felder continued his standout performance with a leaping grab in heavy traffic for 29 yards, which led to Penn State spiking the ball on the next play to stop the clock.
Hackenberg then realized the Lions were in striking distance and said he knew what that meant — get the ball in the hands of Allen Robinson, the man with a 38-inch vertical jump.
“Understanding the type of talent that Allen has, and understanding the situation,” Hackenberg said of his mindset on the final drive in regulation. “I’m going to try to get the ball in his hands.”
The resulting play required Robinson to utilize almost every inch of his vertical jump, as he spectacularly caught the ball before landing in bounds at the one-yard line.
Coach Bill O’Brien said the coaching staff had plenty of confidence in its two-minute drill playcalling.
“We were able to come up with some big plays,” O’Brien said. “I think Christian is a very mature quarterback for being 18 years old. He’s a fun guy to coach and some of that was training and it paid off.”
The second-year coach added that players have faced those types of improbable situations every single day in practice, helping prepare them for the real deal.
Offensive tackle Donovan Smith said O’Brien throws such crazy situations at players that they sometimes “look at him like he’s ridiculous.” But Robinson said this all paid off Saturday night.
“From the time camp started to now we've probably run 100 two-minute drills with 30 seconds remaining, 50 seconds remaining, zero timeouts, one timeout,” Robinson said.
The Lions showed great poise in coming back from a 10-point deficit with less than 10 minutes to play, and the unlikely successful final drive left the 100,000-plus fans on hand in a frenzy.
Yet, Hackenberg, despite entering such a pressure-filled situation, said the five-play, 80-yard drive began with a central message.
“As a unit, we were just like, ’Hey, we got the ball. We got a shot. We practice this every day,” Hackenberg said. “ ‘This is why we came here. This is the type of moment that we want to exceed in.’ And we did. We pulled it out.”