Penn State had an easy time of it in Saturday's 63-10 victory over Kent State, but the road ahead will be more difficult to navigate. Here are five observations after three Nittany Lions games.
After a narrow escape against Appalachian State, the Lions have outscored their last two opponents, 114-16. While this might generate thoughts of dominance when conference play begins Friday night, it's clear Penn State still has some things to clean up. The Lions had too many penalties (eight) and dropped passes (four) against Kent State. They committed one turnover but could have had three. They struggled with consistency.
Can they beat Illinois in their Big Ten opener? You bet. But what about Ohio State the following week? That game might come along a little too early for Penn State giving its youth, meaning the improvement had better come at a more rapid pace.
If he keeps up this pace of production every time he touches the football, Hamler could become this year's Saquon Barkley just for pure electricity and excitement. Saturday, the redshirt freshman wide receiver from suburban Detroit had a kickoff return for 52 yards and a punt return for 33 yards and caught a 22-yard pass. A running play went for no gain, reducing his average per touch to 26.8 yards.
For the season, Hamler has 371 all-purpose yards — counting seven receptions, five kickoff returns, two rushes and one punt return — good for 24.7 yards per touch. Look for ways for the Penn State coaching staff to find more ways to get the ball in Hamler's hands.
Regarding his passing, the 51.7 percent completion rate and the 201-yard average per game in a 3-0 start aren't numbers that are going to wow Heisman Trophy voters. But Trace McSorley's value to the Nittany Lions is immeasurable. After accounting Saturday for five touchdowns, he has 11 TDs – six rushing, five passing – for which he is responsible. He didn't allow himself to be ruffled by penalties that nullified three touchdown passes.
"The guy is a model in terms of how you conduct yourself in the most critical position in all of sports – quarterback," head coach James Franklin said. "I love the guy. I've got a man crush on him. I always have, and I will for a long time."
Franklin uttered a familiar statement when asked about getting through to his players about mistakes after a win. "You don't have to lose a game to get a wakeup call and figure things out," he said. "I think that's a miscommunication out there. … I coach them harder after wins because I think in a lot of ways emotionally, they're more prepared for that, they're going to handle that."
He sounded like a certain Big Five basketball coach. When asked the past few seasons after his rare losses whether he can better get through to his players about mistakes, Villanova coach Jay Wright reluctantly has said yes, but added, "I can do that after a win, too. I'd rather do that after a win."
Backup quarterback Tommy Stevens and starting cornerback John Reid participated in full warmups before the Kent State game, but neither saw any action while continuing to nurse unspecified injuries.