MADISON, Wis. — Last time Penn State was in Madison, the Nittany Lions jumped out to an early lead with a touchdown on their first drive.
That game ended in a 38-point resounding loss to a much-better Wisconsin team.
Saturday's contest was supposed to be similar, with the No. 15 Badgers entering Camp Randall as 25-point favorites.
It was similar in a way as the Lions cracked the scoreboard first with a touchdown on the game-opening drive.
But, the similarities stopped there, as Penn State kept things closer than expected in the first half and capitalized on opportunities in second in an improbable 31-24 victory.
The Lions were not only able to send their seniors out on a high note, but also capture coach Bill O'Brien's second winning season in as many years at the helm.
Here are some highlights of the season finale upset in our rapid reaction:
It was over when:
Early in the second half, true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg stepped up in the pocket and flicked a bomb to Geno Lewis, who ran past two Badger defenders to get under the ball and took it into the end zone, putting Penn State up, 31-14.
The game appeared to be in the bag at this point, but two scoring drives from Wisconsin cut the Penn State lead to seven.
Penn State regained possession with a little more than four minutes to go, stalled out on the first two plays of the series, but found solace in Zach Zwinak.
While he hadn't been much of a factor all day, Zwinak, on a third-and-10, took a delayed handoff 61 yards deep into Wisconsin territory.
With Wisconsin playing without any timeouts, it was then that Penn State could slowly drain the clock.
The Badgers did have a chance after Sam Ficken missed a 31-yard attempt with :35 seconds to go — a conversion that would have put the Lions in the clear up two scores.
After a 17-yard completion to Jared Abbrederis, the Badgers had the ball at their own 38 with :17 seconds to go. On the next play, quarterback Joel Stave found Abbrederis again, this time for 21 yards.
But on an ensuing desperation Hail Mary heave, Stave's pass was picked off in a crowd of players by safety Ryan Keiser.
With one second to go, the Lions lined up in a victory formation, taking a knee and the win.
Play of the game: A 68-yard touchdown pass from Hackenberg to Adam Breneman
It was less than two minutes into the first quarter, but the remainder of the game didn't perhaps see a more shocking play than the early connection from Hackenberg to Breneman.
After trying to establish the run, O'Brien went to the play-action, rolling his quarterback out to the right to see the field.
What Hackenberg saw was a wide-open Breneman, who ran a deep crossing pattern over the middle.
The freshman tossed it to his fellow first-year contributor, and Breneman did the rest. The tight end shook off a tackle and bolted to the house for his third touchdown in as many games.
It gave the Lions an early lead on the game's first possession, and, subsequently, generated confidence offensively for Penn State — Hackenberg in particular.
Try to imagine what this game would have been like if the Lions didn't jump out to an early lead. Obviously it's hard to tell how the game would have unfolded, but Wisconsin loves to jump on teams early, control the tempo with its running game and get on the scoreboard first.
Hackenberg and company didn’t allow them to do that, and it proved crucial to the game’s outcome.
Offensive player of the game: Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg
O'Brien has said time and time again that his freshman quarterback improves each and every week, but Hackenberg's impressive progression from the season opener against Syracuse to now was on full display at Camp Randall.
The quarterback finished completing 21-of-30 passes for 339 yards and four touchdowns, but the numbers don't tell the whole story.
Hackenberg looked like a seasoned veteran, taking his time when he had it in the pocket (which was often), and making quick reads when necessary.
Showing touch on a 29-yard first down pass to Lewis on a second quarter third and seven, Hackenberg demonstrated patience. On his second touchdown to Lewis, Hackenberg exhibited a needed sense of urgency and awareness.
It was, indeed, the freshman's best performance of the year, and if Saturday against Wisconsin was any indication, O'Brien has quite the quarterback of the future in Hackenberg.
Defensive player of the game: Penn State defensive end C.J. Olaniyan
For the second consecutive week, the lengthy, athletic defensive end made his presence known in the backfield, this time to Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave.
On multiple occasions, Olaniyan bulldozed his way into the backfield and brought Stave to the turf, whether it was for a sack or quarterback hurry.
But Olaniyan's biggest play was actually when he wasn't getting after Stave or the Wisconsin running backs. Instead, it was linebacker Brandon Bell attacked Stave, knocking the ball out of the signal caller's hands and into Olaniyan's.
The defensive end then rumbled for 33 yards deep into Wisconsin territory, setting his teammates with a chance to grab a two-score lead.
They did with a Ficken field goal, but it was set up by the opportune position Olaniyan put himself in.