KJ Hamler

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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.

Penn State and Iowa locked in Big Ten defensive battle, Nittany Lions up 7-6 at half

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What was billed as a defensive battle has lived up to expectations. No. 10 Penn State holds a 7-3 lead on No. 17 Iowa at halftime in Kinnick Stadium in a game that just might be a race to 20 points. Or maybe 14. Or 10?

Iowa’s defense came out feisty and gave young starting Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford a rough welcome to a stripe-out atmosphere in Kinnick stadium. Clifford missed on his first five pass attempts before getting in a bit of a rhythm in the second quarter. Clifford completed four of six passes on a 15-play drive that covered 85 yards. The fourth and final pass was a pass to KJ Hamler, who zipped down the right sideline and leaped over a handful of players to cross the goal line. Video replay was used to uphold the call on the field since Hamler actually fell out of bounds. He had crossed the goal line before landing, which is why the call was upheld.

Iowa struck first in the first quarter by scoring the first points given up in the first quarter by Penn State this season. It looked as though Iowa might only get the lone field goal in the first half, but a huge third-down completion from Nate Stanley to Ihmir Smith-Marsette for 36 yards on 3rd-and-10 in the final minute of the half led to a second field goal despite having the ball at the Penn State four-yard line with time to spare.

It’s still a game up for grabs and the defenses are the story in Iowa City. But whoever scores the next touchdown might put this game out of reach.

No. 12 Penn State continues dominant streak over Maryland

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It wasn’t so long ago that it looked as though Maryland was going to be a team capable of pulling a significant upset within the Big Ten. But Friday night showed Maryland may not be quite ready for prime time after all. No. 12 Penn State (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) smashed Maryland (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten), 59-0, in the Big Ten opener for each team.

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford got an early exit midway through the third quarter after a stellar performance. Clifford passed for 398 yards and three touchdowns while completing 26-of-31 pass attempts (he was also picked off once on a terrific effort by Maryland’s Nick Cross. Clifford’s passing total was the most in school history for a road game and ranked up near the top of the school’s all-time record book. Penn State also spread the ball around with 13 different players catching a pass in the rout. KJ Hamler, who scored on a 58-yard pass, led all players with 108 receiving yards. Clifford was also the team’s leading rusher with 54 yards and a touchdown.

Maryland had three turnovers (two interceptions by Josh Jackson and one fumble by Tayon Fleet-Davis) and managed just 124 yards of total offense while giving up 598 yards to the Nittany Lions. For a team that won its opener 79-0 and then scored 63 points against Syracuse, Maryland has come crashing back to earth at the hands of two teams from Pennsylvania. Mike Locksley may still have what it takes to turn things around at Maryland, but losing to two teams north of the Mason-Dixon line stings in recruiting for now.

Penn State has now defeated Maryland 59-0, 38-3, 66-3, and 38-14 in their last four meetings. Since 1991, Penn State has outscored Maryland 242-17 in their last four games played in College Park, Maryland dating back to 1991 (including two meetings since Maryland joined the Big Ten). Penn State leads the series 40-2-1 all-time and 5-1 since Maryland joined the Big Ten. Penn State has won the last five meetings.

Penn State managed to avoid a slow start that has hindered them in their last couple of games against Buffalo and Pitt, and the talent difference between the two rosters showed. Whether this makes Penn State a top contender in the Big Ten in the same boat with Ohio State remains to be determined, but this was easily the best all-around performance by the Nittany Lions in the first month of the season.

Penn State will return home next week to face Purdue. Maryland will look for a rebound win next week when they head to New Jersey to face Rutgers.

No. 12 Penn State shredding shell-shocked Maryland, 38-0 at halftime

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If Maryland was ready to make a statement tonight against No. 12 Penn State, this isn’t the statement they wanted to make. The Nittany Lions have been in full control of the game from the start and lead Maryland 38-0 at halftime in College Park.

Penn State’s defense has been dominant by holding the home team to fewer than 100 yards and forcing a pair of turnovers. Penn State has intercepted Maryland quarterback Josh Jackson twice, including one near the endzone on Maryland’s most promising offensive series of the first half. The defense came up with a big play on the game’s opening possession when Jan Johnson intercepted Jackson on the fifth play of the game. The return took the ball to the Maryland 44-yard line and a pair of penalties on Maryland moved the ball all the way to the nine-yard line. Sean Clifford kept the ball himself and ran up the middle for a touchdown on the first play after the turnover, and it was off to the races for Penn State.

Penn State scored touchdowns on their first four possessions of the game, and five of their six first-half possessions. Clifford completed passes to KJ Hamler for 58 yards and Journey Brown for 37 yards and touchdowns where the receiver racked up yards after the catch. Ricky Slade and Nick Bowers have also scored for Penn State.

The first half also saw a player from each team ejected for targeting. Penn State’s Micah Parsons was tossed in the first quarter for a hit on Jackson. Maryland’s Deon Jones was ejected in the second quarter for a hit on Penn State receiver Justin Shorter. Both players will be eligible to return to their teams in their next game.

Maryland has also had some injury issues. Offensive lineman Marcus Minor was helped off the field to the locker room, and Lorenzo Harrison had to go into the medical tent in the first half.

Because the rules require it, there will be 30 more minutes of football played in College Park tonight.