KJ Hamler

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Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth announces his return in 2020

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Not long after Penn State put the finishing touches on a 10-win regular season with a sluggish win against Rutgers, Penn State got some very good news for the 2020 season. Tight end Pat Freiermuth announced he will return to the Nittany Lions for another season.

Freiermuth announced his decision with a statement on his Twitter account on Saturday evening.

“In the past couple weeks, it has come to light that I am able to declare for the 2020 NFL Draft,” Freiermuth said, referring to recent stories confirming he would be eligible for the NFL Draft if he chose to declare early. “After discussing the opportunity with my family, coaches and other loved ones, I have decided to return to Pen State for my junior year.”

“The brotherhood and family atmosphere in this program is something that I am not ready to leave,” Freierrmuth said. “The culture Coach [James Franklin] and the staff have created here is something very special and I love being part of it.”

The return of Freiermuth is a big one for Penn State. Considered one of the top tight ends in the Big Ten, if not the country despite being left off the semifinalist list for the John Mackey Award, Freiermuth had 41 catches for 468 yards and seven touchdowns this season for the Nittany Lions, all good for second on the team behind speedy wide receiver KJ Hamler.

No. 9 Penn State grinds out win vs. Indiana to improve to 9-1, Buckeyes up next

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A week after suffering its first loss, No. 9 Penn State (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) didn’t exactly rebound in crisp fashion at home against Indiana (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) on Saturday. But after 60 minutes of play, the Nittany Lions will take a win any way they can as they get set for a massive test next week. A late touchdown run by Sean Clifford provided the much-needed breathing room as Penn State fought for a 34-27 victory.

After Indiana trimmed Penn State’s lead to 27-24 in the fourth quarter, Penn State orchestrated an 18-play drive that shaved off over nine minutes of game clock. Clifford ended the drive by pushing across the goal line for a touchdown to create a late two-score game. Clifford lost a fumble in the game but did not throw an interception a week after being picked off three times. Clifford ended his day with 179 passing yards and a touchdown pass to Nick Bowers, and Clifford added 54 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns in the victory.

Penn State also had another 100-yard day from running back Journey Brown (21 carries, 100 yards, 1 touchdown) and two big catches from tight end Pat Freiermuth (although no touchdowns). Penn State lost wide receiver KJ Hamler to an apparent head injury in the first half. His status moving forward will now be in some question.

Indiana also lost its top playmaker with receiver Whop Philyor leaving the game late in the first half. Peyton Ramsey and the Hoosiers still managed to make some plays to keep drives alive (Ramsey passed for 371 yards and a touchdown and scored two touchdowns on the ground), and a pair of special teams mishaps didn’t help in the effort. Philyor muffed a punt in the first quarter that ultimately led to a Penn State touchdown (although video replay showed he may not have touched the ball, but not strong enough to overturn the call on the field), and one of the worst fake punt attempts was quickly turned into a big Penn State touchdown in the third quarter.

Next up for Penn State is a big one. The Nittany Lions travel to Columbus, Ohio next week to take on Ohio State. The undefeated Buckeyes (barring a monumental upset on the road at Rutgers today) will be the biggest test of the year for a Penn State team that has had room for improvement across the board the last few weeks. First place in the Big Ten East will be on the line, and there is a chance Ohio State could wrap up the division with a win. Penn State needs to win to have a shot at the Big Ten championship and to remain in the playoff race heading into the final game of the regular season.

Indiana will play its final home game of the season next week when they host Michigan.

Penn State leading Indiana despite sluggish first-half effort

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A week after giving up the first two first-quarter touchdowns of the season, Penn State’s defense was unable to lock things down early against Indiana. Despite a tough first quarter, Penn State leads the Hoosiers 20-14 at halftime in Happy Valley as the Nittany Lions attempt to keep their playoff hopes alive for one more week.

Both teams seem to have lost their biggest playmakers in the first half. KJ Hamler had his helmet taken away on the sideline after appearing to land on his head awkwardly at the end of a kickoff return. Indiana’s Whop Philyor was taken to the sideline medical tent after being hit hard and fumbling in the second quarter. There was no targeting on the play, which was confirmed by the video replay review during a timeout. Without their top wide receivers, neither offense has looked particularly sharp despite a back-and-forth first quarter.

Sean Clifford rushed for a 38-yard touchdown and completed a touchdown pass to tight end Nick Bowers in the first quarter, but the offense has had a tough time keeping things going against Indiana. Hamler had 52 yards on two receptions before leaving the game, and he remains the leading receiver for Penn State. Philyor had 50 yards on two receptions as well. The bigger concern for Penn State has been the pass defense, which struggled against Minnesota last week and has its hands full against the top-ranked passing offense in the conference.

Peyton Ramsey and the Hoosiers are hanging around and will get the ball to start the second half.

No. 7 Penn State exhales after holding off No. 16 Michigan, 28-21

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Recent history has seen Penn State fail to finish off a game despite carrying a double-digit lead int he fourth quarter, but Saturday night was a different story for the Nittany Lions. No. 7 Penn State (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) had to sweat a bit against No. 16 Michigan (5-2, 3-2 Big Ten) after jumping all over the visitors early on, but a 28-21 victory was one of the gutsiest wins of the James Franklin era in Happy Valley.

Penn State jumped out to a 21-0 lead on the Wolverines in the first quarter but then went flat on offense. Credit Michigan’s defense for hanging in there through a rough start and regaining their confidence, and hand out some blame for Penn State’s playcalling once again going timid and going off the mark. Michigan dominated the second half in time of possession as Penn State was unable to manage much offense. that gave Michigan’s offense an opportunity to grind away at the Penn State defense, which paid off in a big way after halftime.

Zach Charbonnet brought the Wolverines with one score with a 12-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, but the Michigan defense got bit on Penn State’s ensuing possession. After KJ Hamler picked up a big catch for a first down on a 3rd-and-5 with Michigan blitzing Sean Clifford, Clifford went deep to a streaking Hamler on the very next play for a 53-yard touchdown to energize Beaver Stadium.

The comfort of a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter was short-lived because Michigan answered in the most Big Ten way possible; a scrum at the goal line with Shea Patterson getting the ball just across the goal line.

With Michigan once again working their way deep into Penn State territory, the Wolverines were faced with a fourth-and-goal from the Penn State three-yard line with 2:01 to play. Patterson got the pass to his receiver in the end zone, but a dropped pass by Ronnie Bell resulted in a turnover on downs.

Still in need a first down, Penn State put the ball in the hands of Hamler to pick up a hard-fought first down. The play ended with Hamler being helped off the field after getting banged up on the play. Hamler had six catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns, but his four-yard run in the final minutes to keep the clock rolling after Michigan had burned two timeouts may have been the clutch play of the day for the speedy receiver.

Penn State won its second game against a top 25 team in as many weeks, helping to keep the Nittany Lions in stride in the Big Ten East standings with Ohio State. The Nittany Lions and Buckeyes are the only undefeated teams in the division and won’t play until the next-to-last game of the regular season. Both teams have some work to do before the focus can shift on to a potential division-deciding game. Michigan suffering its second loss in big Ten play really hurts Michigan’s chances for an elusive division crown.

Penn State will head to East Lansing next week to take on Michigan State (4-3). Michigan State has frustrated the Nittany Lions each of the last two years with stunning victories that have essentially dealt fatal blows to nay longshot playoff opportunities for Penn State on top of taking them out of the running for a trip to the Big Ten championship game. The Spartans were off this week.

Things won’t get any easier for Michigan next week, although they will be home to host No. 8 Notre Dame. The Irish took last year’s game in South Bend, 24-17, in the season opener. Michigan won the last meeting with the Fighting Irish in Ann Arbor in 2013, 41-30. Next week’s game will likely be much more low scoring.

Penn State leading Michigan, 21-7, in front of whiteout crowd

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No. 7 Penn State jumped out to a 21-0 lead on No. 16 Michigan in front of the whiteout crowd in Happy Valley Saturday night. The Nittany Lions lead the Wolverines 21-7 at the half thanks to two touchdown passes by Sean Clifford and one more touchdown run by the Penn State quarterback.

Michigan was forced to burn a timeout before the first snap of the game. As the play clock was winding down with Shea Patterson and the Wolverines at the end of the stadium with the student section, a miscommunication led to Jim Harbaugh calling for a timeout rather than risk an early mistake with the football. Later on the opening drive, Michigan opted to punt from the Penn State 47-yard line rather than try to convert a 4th-and-1. The Michigan punt trickled into the end zone for a touchback.

Penn State was the first to put a dent on the scoreboard when Clifford dropped a pass right into the hands of tight end Pat Freiermuth midway through the first quarter. Clifford’s 17-yard touchdown pass came on the first play after dropping a dime for Jahan Dotson to get the Nittany Lions inside the red zone for the first time on the night. Clifford later scored a touchdown on the ground by reaching across the goal line on the first play of the second quarter.

After exchanging punts on the next couple of possessions, the Penn State defense picked up the first turnover of the game when Tariq Castro-fields somehow managed to intercept a short screen pass from Shea Patterson in traffic at midfield. Penn State capitalized on the possession with another well-placed pass from Clifford to KJ Hamler for a touchdown.

Michigan did start getting some composure on offense late in the second quarter. After going down 21-0, the Wolverines strung together a 75-yard touchdown drive capped by Zach Charbonnet running 12 yards for Michigan’s first score of the night.

The Wolverines still have plenty of work to do, and they’ll need the defense to keep the game within reach. This Michigan offense may not be suited to score a ton of points, but 14 points is still a manageable deficit even in the whiteout conditions in Beaver Stadium.