STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Penn State played the final three quarters of its 34-27 victory Saturday against Indiana without top receiver KJ Hamler, who apparently was injured on a kickoff return late in the first quarter.
Per program policy, head coach James Franklin did not disclose the nature of the injury but said, “We’re pretty hopeful that we’ll have him for next week” against Ohio State.
Hamler caught two passes in his limited time, including a 41-yard reception that set up the first of two field goals, a 47-yarder by Jake Pinegar. Franklin was pleased at the way his team responded in Hamler’s absence.
“I’m really proud of our guys, because when you lose a guy like KJ, I didn’t see any issues or concern,” Franklin said. “Obviously [there was] concern for KJ because that’s our brother, but other guys stepped up. Coaches stepped up.”
Hamler delighted his teammates by greeting them in the tunnel with a bullhorn after the game.
“You know how KJ is,” running back Journey Brown said. “KJ’s going to be KJ at the end of the day. So it made us feel good to see him.”
Averting a calamity
One of the more interesting plays of Penn State’s 18-play, fourth-quarter drive that iced the game was play No. 7, when Sean Clifford fumbled a fake hand off to Journey Brown, only to recover it on one bounce and throw a strike to tight end Pat Freiermuth that was good for 15 yards and a first down.
“That’s on me,” Clifford said. “I have to have a better exchange. I’m talking through it now, but in the heat of the moment I’m not thinking about anything other than to get the ball and throw it to where I’m supposed to throw it.”
Levis’ big moment
Lions backup quarterback Will Levis ran three plays where he took the snap and ran with the football, but no play was bigger than his last carry.
The 6-foot-3, 229-pound redshirt freshman came on during his team’s long fourth-quarter drive on third-and-2 from the Indiana 25 and gained 1 yard. Franklin kept him in the game, and he powered for a 3-yard gain to keep the drive alive.
In the second quarter, Levis’ first carry went for 1 yard in a goal-to-go situation, and Penn State eventually settled for a field goal. On all three of Levis’ snaps, Clifford split out wide and was not involved.
“It was something that we kind of had mixed in, that we’ve been kind of doing throughout the year in practice,” Franklin said. “Sean has been a little nicked up, so we’ve been working on it in practice in case we are in a situation where we need to play him and add some running game.”
Clifford was happy for his friend.
“It’s awesome that Will gets in the game and pounds it in on that [fourth] down,” he said. “That was sweet. So I’m really happy for him contributing big-time in this game. It’s a new package that people need to worry about.”