Leading up to last week’s game at Maryland, Penn State coach James Franklin continued to stress the importance of getting KJ Hamler more touches.
On Friday night, Penn State’s first passing play — on a third-and-9 from the Nittany Lions’ 42-yard line — went to Hamler.
He caught the ball near the first-down marker, bounced off a would-be tackler and left a few more in his tracks as he glided into the end zone for his third touchdown of the season.
It was the first of six catches Hamler had that night. But still, Franklin thinks the Nittany Lions can get the sophomore wideout even more involved.
“More, more,” Franklin said. “Thirty catches a game.”
Of course, that’s not realistic. Opposing teams already game-plan each week to try to limit Hamler’s impact, and Franklin knows that.
“Although we have a plan to get guys the ball, it’s all, at the end of the day, dictated on what the defense is going to run,” Franklin said.
More often than not — because of what the defense is giving them and because of how many playmakers the Nittany Lions have — touches are going to be distributed pretty evenly, as they were last Friday. Hamler had six catches, Cam Sullivan-Brown had five, Ricky Slade and Jahan Dotson had three, three others had two, and six others had one.
That total, 13 players, is a bit extreme because of the number of second- and third-team players who got in during the Nittany Lions’ 59-0 blowout of the Terrapins.
But as long as Penn State continues to utilize a four-man running-back rotation and deploy plenty of 12 personnel — one running back, two tight ends — there are going to be seven or eight guys getting a significant number of targets each week. The best way to do that: Continue to convert on third down as the Nittany Lions did last week in College Park.
“The more we can stay on the field and get more first- and second-down opportunities … it allows us to continue to be explosive and it creates more touches for guys,” Franklin said. “The more our playmakers can touch the ball, the better.”
The way Franklin and the rest of the coaching staff talk about him, Hamler is probably the player they’d like to feed the most. But Hamler says he doesn’t really care about his stats.
“I don’t really pay attention to the stats or how many touchdowns I score,” Hamler said after Wednesday’s practice. “In my mind, I do whatever I can to contribute to the team.”
But he still knows how many receiving yards he had last week, and to him, it wasn’t anything special.
“I think it was average,” Hamler said “I don’t think reaching over 100-plus [receiving yards] is a big game.”
Last week was only the third time in his young career that he surpassed 100 yards receiving — the first was against Ohio State last season and the second was in Week 1 against Idaho. Overall, he’s averaging more than 65 receiving yards in his first 17 collegiate appearances.
But that hasn’t stopped him from setting the bar high.
What is a big game in his eyes, 150 receiving yards? 200?