PSU-Syracuse highlights, lowlights

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Following are the highlights and lowlights from Penn State’s 23-17 victory over Syracuse on Saturday at MetLife Stadium:

Play of the game: Nittany Lion freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg stepped into a 54-yard touchdown pass on a deep post over the middle to Geno Lewis, extending Penn State’s lead to 23-10 with 11:39 remaining.

Offensive player of the game: Hackenberg, in his much-anticipated debut, completed 22-of-31 for 278 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Defensive player of the game: PSU safety/linebacker Stephen Obeng-Agyapong made eight tackles, including five solos, intercepted a pass and forced and recovered a fumble.

Most telling statistic: Penn State’s four turnovers kept Syracuse in the game.

Hidden statistic: The Lions managed to win despite converting just 1-of-16 third downs.

Best run: No showstoppers from scrimmage, but Syracuse defensive end Robert Welsh returned an interception 31 yards to the PSU 1 midway through the fourth quarter.

Best pass: See play of the game.

Worst pass: Syracuse quarterback Drew Allen threw a third-quarter interception directly to Obeng-Agyapong.

Best catch: Syracuse’s Adrian Flemming maintained his concentration to snag a third-down pass that Malcolm Willis nearly picked and extended an early possession for the Orange.

Catch it, will ya: Syracuse had several drops, including a late flare to Prince-Tyson Gulley, who had running room.

Hold it, won’t ya: Lion backup quarterback Tyler Ferguson dropped a ball without being hit after entering in the first quarter. Allen Robinson was stripped in the third quarter by Syracuse’s Brandon Reddish, who took it 42 yards the other way.

Best block: Lion tight end Jesse James did a nice job sealing the edge to spring Zach Zwinak’s 11-yard run in the second quarter.

Best tackle: Agyapong stripped Syracuse running back Jerome Smith, creating a turnover and needed field position for Penn State in the second quarter. Zwinak’s dumping of Welsh at the PSU 1 deserves mention, too.

Worst tackle: Obeng-Agyapong had Gulley trapped in the backfield in the second quarter but couldn’t bring him down, turning a potential big loss into a 10-yard gain.

Best hit(s): Syracuse corner Keon Lyn drilled Lion receiver Matt Zanellato in the first quarter, but that was trumped by Obeng-Agyapong’s blindside sack of Allen off a blitz.

Best kick: Sam Ficken’s 46-yard field goal – his career long – gave Penn State a 16-10 lead with 14:22 remaining.

Worst kick: Syracuse’s Ross Krautman, with the Orange trailing 13-10, missed from 43 yards late in the third quarter.

Best call: Bill O’Brien executed a fake field goal in the second quarter with holder Ryan Keiser running for 5 yards and a first down to the Orange 25. The play set up a PSU field goal that tied the game at 3-3.

Worst call: On third-and-11 from its own 30 with seven minutes left, leading 23-10 and needing only to turn the game over to its defense, PSU called for a pass that was intercepted and turned into a touchdown that pulled Syracuse within 23-17.

Best return: Jesse Della Valle’s 31-yard punt return in the fourth quarter set up the Lions’ game-clinching touchdown drive.

Best effort: PSU defensive tackle DaQuan Jones was a beast with nine tackles, including eight solos, and three TFLs.

Unsung hero: Lion offensive tackle Garry Gilliam chased down Reddish after a 42-yard return with a fumble in the third quarter, saving a touchdown that would have given Syracuse a 17-13 lead.