PREGAME: As expected, freshman QB Christian Hackenberg worked with the first team. … Garry Gilliam appears to be getting the nod at right tackle. … It is extremely hot on the field, reaching nearly 100 degrees.
Christian Hackenberg started. Tyler Ferguson played. And through a quarter of play at MetLife Stadium, neither has been able to punch the ball into the end zone for Penn State.
The Lions are tied 0-0 with Syracuse after the first 15 minutes, with Syracuse taking the ball into the second quarter after Ferguson fumbled on his first series of the day. The fumble came on a bobbled snap, which gave Syracuse its best field position of the afternoon. Hackenberg is 6-for-7 for 36 yards, while Ferguson completed his lone strike for 18 yards to Matt Zanellato.
The Lions suffered their first injury of the 2013 season in the first quarter, as linebacker Mike Hull briefly went to the locker room with an undisclosed injury. He's back on the sideline, but has yet to re-enter the game.
Penn State receiver Allen Robinson did not play in the first quarter, though no reason has been given.
A pair of Sam Ficken field goals, one from 36-yards and one from 35-yards, has Penn State on top of Syracuse 6-3 at halftime. Syracuse will receive to start the second half.
Hackenberg took every snap of the quarter, boosting his stat line to 11-for-15 for 69 yards. He also threw his first interception in Penn State blue and white by floating a pass intended for tight end Kyle Carter. Syracuse free safety Jeremi Wilkes read it all the way, and jumped the route.
The Orange did retain possession for long, though, as running back Jerome Smith had his second down carry ripped away by Stephen Obeng-Agyapong on the next series, and the safety also recovered the fumble for Penn State. It was the summery stretch of a half that featured plenty of sloppy play. The Orange gained just 36 yards.
Penn State has outgained the Orange 142-111, getting 51 rushing yards, a game-high, from tailback Zach Zwinak. Matt Zanellato is the leading receiver for the Lions at the break with 21 yards on a pair of grabs.
Robinson did not play at all in the first half, but head coach Bill O'Brien told ESPN at halftime that the receiver would play in the second half. When asked to provide background on why Robinson did not play, the head coach said "it's between Allen and I."
In injury news, linebacker Mike Hull has played sparingly after suffering an injury in the first quarter, and returned to the locker room early ahead of halftime. Tight end Kyle Carter continued to play but did so with his left arm heavily wrapped. No word has yet been given as to his condition.
In four minutes, there was more excitement injected into MetLife Stadium than the in the entire first two quarters combined. It ended with Penn State still leading Syracuse, 13-10.
The highlight for the Lions came on their first drive of the second half, where Robinson showed his value by hauling in a 25-yard pass from Hackenberg, before scoring one play later on a 51-yard strike set-up by a pump fake. It gave Penn State a 13-3 lead.
Syracuse quickly answered with its own quick strike, moving 55 yards on its first play after the score with a heave from Drew Allen that found a wide-open Jeremiah Kobena down the seam. The Orange punched it in one play later on a 10-yard Jerome Smith scamper around the left end.
The turning point came with just over four minutes to play in the quarter, when Robinson was stripped by Brandon Reddish, who returned it all the way to the Penn State 27. He was planted by offensive tackle Garry Gilliam, who ended up being worth seven points, as Syracuse went three and out, and Ross Kruatman missed a 43-yard field goal wide left.
When Christian Hackenberg hit Geno Lewis in stride for a 54-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter, it seemed unlikely the Orange, who could do little offensively throughout much of Saturday's season-opener, could muster any sort of comeback.
If head coach Scott Shafer's Orange would muster anything, though, they would probably need a little help from the Lions. They got it.
Hackenberg's third down toss intended for receiver Brandon Moseby-Felder was picked off by lineman Robert Welsh at the Penn State 31 yard-line and returned it all the way to the Lions one. Smith punched it in one play later, pulling Syracuse within six, 23-17, with 6:58 left to play.
The momentum seemed to be on the side of the Orange, especially after a 11-yard run by Smith on first down. But he lost two yards on the next play, and was crushed by Da'Quan Jones in the process, before Allen threw a pair of incomplete passes to end the series.
Penn State could not pick up a game-ending first down with the ball back, but it didn't matter. On third down, Allen found corner Trevor Williams instead of a receiver, and with a tip toe catch, the ball was Penn State's, as was the victory.
Lions win, 23-17.