KJ Hamler

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Penn State special teams a disaster as Kentucky leads Nittany Lions in Citrus Bowl

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The VRBO Citrus Bowl between No. 12 Penn State and No. 14 Kentucky has been dictated by the defenses by both teams and a handful of special teams miscues by the Nittany Lions. At the half, Kentucky leads Penn State 10-7 in Orlando, with Kentucky prepping to get the ball to start the second half.

It was a first half of special teams blunders for Penn State, but none were more costly than Lynn Bowden Jr. returned a punt out of the Penn State end zone 58 yards to the house for a touchdown late in the first quarter. Paired with a field goal on Kentucky’s first offensive series of the game, Kentucky had a 10-0 lead in the first quarter despite not getting much on offense against a stingy Penn State defense.

Penn State started the game with two straight three-and-outs and then capped their third possession of the game with a missed field goal try in the first quarter. Penn State picked up some momentum at the beginning of the second quarter with a screen pass to speedy KJ Hamler, which setup Trace McSorley for a short touchdown pass to tight end Nick Bowers to bring the score to 10-7 in favor of Kentucky.

Penn State has had a few special teams miscues in addition to giving up the punt return touchdown. The Nittany Lions were stuffed on a fake punt run on the opening possession of the game, missed two field goals, and cost themselves some field position by not calling for a fair catch in their own end. It hasn’t been all bad, however, as Blake Gillikin did get off a 71-yard punt that pinned Kentucky deep on their side of the field.

If Kentucky was able to get anything going on offense, Penn State would be in serious danger. But because the Nittany Lions defense is keeping things within reach, this is still anybody’s game in the second half.

Neither team has a third-down conversion at halftime, with Penn State 0-for-8 and Kentucky 0-for-7.

True freshman Rondale Moore of Purdue wins Hornung Award

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In his very first game at the collegiate level, Rondale Moore broke Purdue’s single-game record for all-purpose yards.  So, it’s none too surprising — outside of his young age, of course — that the wide receiver has claimed an honor that goes to the nation’s most versatile player.

Tuesday, the Louisville Sports Commission announced that Moore has been named as the 2018 recipient of the Paul Hornung Award.  Moore, who played his high school football in the city of Louisville, is the first-ever true freshman to receive the award.

Moore is also the first Boilermaker football player to be on the receiving end of a major national honor since punter Travis Dorsch won the 2001 Ray Guy Award.

Moore beat out the other four finalists for the award: Marcus Green (Louisiana-Monroe), KJ Hamler (Penn State), N'Keal Harry (Arizona State) and Connor Heyward (Michigan State).

After the 313 all-purpose yards he put up in his collegiate debut, Moore also added 252 against Big Ten champion Ohio State.  He currently leads the Big Ten in receiving yards (1,164), receiving touchdowns (12) and kickoff return yards (599).

Déjà vu all over again for No. 8 Penn State as Michigan State stuns Nittany Lions with late score

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Michigan State did it again. For the second year in a row, the Spartans (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) stunned No. 8 Penn State (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) with a fourth-quarter rally and late go-ahead score to hand the Nittany Lions a bitter loss in the first game Penn State played after losing to Ohio State by one point.

Brian Lewerke underthrew a pass to Felton Davis on a third-and-two, but Davis was ready for it, broke a tackle and then broke the hearts of Penn State fans gathering in Beaver Stadium for homecoming. Davis’ touchdown grab came with 19 seconds to play, giving Michigan State a stunning 21-17 lead on the Nittany Lions. All that was left was for the Michigan State special teams unit to prevent KJ Hamler from a big kickoff return (they did) and for the defense to hold on for the final 13 seconds of the game. They did.

Penn State didn’t play their best game of the year, and Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio going into his bag of tricks caught the Nittany Lions off guard a few times. But a fourth-quarter decision to attempt a fake field goal came up empty for the Spartans and their hopes of celebrating a big win in Big Ten East play. Brian Lewerke‘s pass over the middle to Raequan Williams appeared to be there for the taking, but the pass fell incomplete for a turnover on downs.

Earlier in the game, Michigan State had successfully executed a fake punt and followed it up with a running back pass to lead to a touchdown. A few trick plays were needed to light a spark for the Spartans, who were a bit short-handed on offense. Penn State’s offense was not much better. The Nittany Lions struggled on third-down conversions and had a missed field goal and Penn State was flagged for six penalties for 41 yards. Outside of a couple of big runs by Miles Sanders, the Spartans defense fared well enough to keep the pressure on Penn State all afternoon.

Trace McSorley and Lewerke each had a rough game in terms of completing passes. McSorley, in particular, did not look like himself after a career game against the Buckeyes, from the ball slipping out of his hand on a pass to making an odd decision to run out of bounds late in the fourth quarter to stop the clock without forcing Michigan State to use a timeout. That inability for Penn State to kill off more than 11 seconds on their last offensive possession with the lead proved to be critical, as was a missed field goal earlier.  Michigan State’s game-winning drive started at their 24-yard line with 1:10 to play, and the Spartans scored with fewer than 20 seconds remaining.

The win helps keep Michigan State in the discussion for the Big Ten championship with games still to play against Michigan (next week) and Ohio State down the line. The loss knocks Penn State out of the running for the Big Ten East once again, and the fight just to get back to a New Years Six bowl game may have taken a tough blow as well, although that could still be a possibility if Penn State can turn things around.

Penn State will take to the road for the second time in Big Ten play next week when they visit Indiana. Michigan State will return home next week for a big game against in-state rival Michigan.

Big runs by Miles Sanders help give Penn State halftime lead on Michigan State

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With Saquon Barkley on the sidelines as Penn State celebrates homecoming, Miles Sanders has been showing he is not a bad running back either. Sanders has rushed for 145 yards and one remarkable touchdown to help Penn State take a 14-7 lead on Michigan State into halftime in Happy Valley.

Sanders ripped off a 78-yard run in the first quarter to setup a five-yard touchdown run by KJ Hamler to put Penn State in front in the first quarter. The one run alone nearly doubled the total rushing yards by Sanders two weeks ago against Ohio State, which he actually did later in the second quarter.

Michigan State tied the game early in the second quarter after lighting a spark with some trick plays that caught Penn State off guard. A fake punt run by Connor Heyward for a 36-yard gain on 4th-and-6 was later followed by Heyward completing a 36-yard pass to Cam Chambers to take the Spartans down to the one-yard line. From there it was a struggle, but the drive ended with La’Darius Jefferson pushing forward for a touchdown.

Penn State regained the lead when Sanders took a handoff from Trace McSorley on a draw and broke tackles and found room to work on his way to a 48-yard run. It was a run that looked like one that might have been ripped off by Barkley.

More importantly, Sanders gave Penn State a lead that it must now protect in the second half. Penn State has enjoyed plenty of success in the second half this season. Michigan State rallied in the second half to hand the Nittany Lions a tough loss in East Lansing last year. Can they do it again?