Penn State’s KJ Hamler was eager to start his season Saturday by taking a punt return to the house for a touchdown. But Idaho did not want any part of it, with coach Paul Petrino having his punter, Cade Coffey, hitting low bouncers that he hoped would elude Hamler.
The Nittany Lions’ electrifying redshirt sophomore managed to return just four of Coffey’s 11 punts and broke off a 25-yard return, but he was mostly thwarted.
“It’s frustrating because I always think I’m this close from breaking one,” said Hamler, who caught two touchdown passes from new starting quarterback Sean Clifford. “Coach (James) Franklin pulled me aside and just said, ‘Don’t get frustrated, don’t beat yourself up, you’re getting good yards for us.’
“It’s anything I can do for the team. I don’t have to make big play if I get positive yards, that’s a positive in my eyes and in the team’s eyes, just whatever I can do to help out the team.”
Jordan Stout, the transfer kickoff specialist from Virginia Tech, put on a show in his debut in Happy Valley.
The redshirt sophomore had as busy a day as a kicker could have, booming 12 of his 13 kickoffs for touchbacks. Idaho fair-caught one of his kicks at the 2-yard line, the only effort that didn’t go into the end zone, but the Vandals got the ball at their 25 anyway.
“I remember on the headset coaches were talking about (wide receiver Dan) Chisena being tired because he was on four special-teams units,” Franklin said. “I said, ‘What about Stout’s leg? He had a really good game for us.”
Stout also kicked a 53-yard field goal, tied for the sixth-longest in program history, early in the first quarter. But it was his kickoffs that impressed.
“We’ve been seeing it all throughout camp,” cornerback John Reid said. “So we weren’t really surprised. I think one time he got the wind to his back and I’m thinking, ‘That’s really unnecessary. He’ll kick it out regardless.'
“Those touchbacks are crucial. Field position is crucial to winning the game so we’re really grateful to have that.”
Penn State was able to get 10 true freshmen significant playing time in the 72-point thumping of Idaho.
It was expected that running backs Noah Cain and Devyn Ford would see their fair share of carries as they’ll both likely factor into the offense’s plans going forward. They combined to rush for 154 yards and three touchdown.