PITTSBURGH – Wide receiver K.J. Hamler quickly has become a fan favorite on the Penn State campus, and his popularity skyrocketed, even more, Saturday night when he scored two first-half touchdowns for the Nittany Lions against Pittsburgh at Heinz Field.
Hamler, a redshirt freshman, couldn't go too far during the past week without someone coming up and congratulating him for his contributions – a 52-yard kickoff return, a 15-yard touchdown catch – to the tying score that forced overtime against Appalachian State, and an eventual victory.
"A lot of students have been coming up to me and just telling me 'great game' or 'great catch,'" Hamler said. "They loved the kick return, stuff like that. It's pretty cool but it wasn't just me, it was the team. The team helped me as well so I couldn't have done all that without everybody blocking or making the right read. So the team comes first."
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Hamler, who hesitated for two or three seconds before he came out of the end zone, said he viewed the return "probably about a thousand times."
"I watched just to see why I made the decision I made, or what I could have done better," he said. "I just appreciate everybody who was blocking. We wouldn't have made that happen if we all weren't working as a team. So I think was a great spark to that game but now we're on to Pitt, trying to beat Pitt this week."
Hamler ran for a 32-yard touchdown off a jet sweep handoff on Penn State's first possession of the game Saturday night. He scored again with 26 seconds left in the first half, catching a 14-yard pass from Trace McSorley in the end zone and giving his team a 14-6 lead.
Finding a measured approach
Penn State head coach James Franklin noticed a lot of mistakes in last week's season opener, and he and his staff spent the week correcting the errors in preparing for Saturday night's game.
However, because he has a young team – 17 players made their collegiate debuts last week, including eight true freshmen – Franklin has to make sure he doesn't pile on too much information in too short a time.
"I think there's always a high level of pressure in practice and that is intentional, to try to get them prepared for what it's going to be like on Saturday," Franklin said Wednesday night at his post-practice availability. "I want to find out on the practice field, not on Saturday afternoons. So we're always coaching them as if we have to be ready for Saturday. There's always that sense of urgency.
"But I think as coaches when you go back into the meeting rooms, you know the big picture. You're not going to go from A to Z in one week but you've kind of got to keep chipping away at it. So I think you've got to come out in meetings and in practice with the mentality that you've got to get it fixed yesterday, but you also have an understanding as a head coach that it's going to take time.
"There's going to be mistakes that show up again on Saturday, we've got to make sure that they're not the costly mistakes that are difficult to overcome with the turnovers and the penalties and the things like that."
By the numbers
McSorley's scoring pass to Hamler late in the first half extended his streak to 30 consecutive games, which he has thrown at least one touchdown pass.
The Nittany Lions entered Saturday night's contest with a 49-30 record in night games, including 23-14 on the road. They will play another night game on Sept. 21 at Illinois in their Big Ten opener.