KJ Hamler vs Michigan State
Although the outcome to the last game wasn’t what Penn State fans had hoped for, the team chemistry and player development have both improved immensely throughout the season. “I think we have gotten dramatically better since week one,” Franklin said. “I think the trajectory of the program and what we’re doing is really good.”
It is the little things, or the “one percent”, that makes Penn State an elite football team. “Every stage you get to, you fight like heck to get there and to break through,” Franklin said. “I’m very, very pleased with the direction we’re going.”
Coach Franklin often asks himself, “How can we get one percent better in multiple areas?” Whether it’s getting better quality sleep and nutrition or performing in the weight room, it all ties back to a simple question: did we get better?
Franklin believes “we’ve gotten better every single week.”
The Nittany Lions are headed in the right direction. Trace McSorley’s 461 total yards in his last outing was more than anyone has ever accounted for in Penn State history. Now he’s facing a team from Michigan State where he previously threw 381 yards against in 2017 and 376 yards in 2016 – both records are regular season, single game highs for McSorley. Throughout five games, McSorley is averaging 210 passing yards per game and he’s already on pace to destroy his previous high of 491 total rushing yards in a season.
McSorley and Miles Sanders are big reasons why Penn State’s offense has been successful. The duo is averaging 190 rushing yards per game this season. Penn State currently ranks 12th in the country in rushing yards per game but they’re up against Michigan State who has been stout against the run this season. The Spartans are first in the nation in rushing yards allowed, holding their opponents to 33.8 yards per game.
“We’ve got a real challenge,” Franklin said. “We’ve had some serious battles that go back and forth.” Aside from the three-hour rain delay in last season’s loss to Michigan State, the three turnovers were impossible to overcome for the Nittany Lions. The Spartans have shown they’re adept at controlling the pace of the game and Penn State will need to make the most of every single possession. “There’s no doubt we need to do a better job at protecting the football,” Franklin said. “We drill it every single day. We’ll stick to the plan.”
Coming into the season, McSorley and Sanders were looked at as two of the big playmakers Penn State would rely on heavily. While they’ve both been key, freshman KJ Hamler has emerged as a young star for the Nittany Lions.
Before arriving to Happy Valley, Franklin has coached many talented wide-receivers including NFL players Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson and Torrey Smith. “Is KJ right up there with those guys?” Franklin asked himself. “No doubt about it. He is an energy giver. KJ is what’s great about college football.”
One of the great things about college football is how many exciting, big plays can happen over the course of a game. Through six weeks of college football, Hamler’s 93-yard score is the third longest offensive play this season. Hamler has touched the ball fifteen times on offense this season, five of those plays resulting in a touchdown. Even if he’s not scoring, Hamler sparks the offense with his elusive speed. His big-play ability is evident with his 23.7 yards per catch with only five other players in the nation higher averages. Hamler will play on Saturday.
This weekend, Penn State’s 99th homecoming game will introduce a new tradition. When the Penn State team takes the blue buses down to Beaver Stadium before the game, it will be led by a blue bus filled with Penn State lettermen. The lettermen will lead the current team into the stadium for every homecoming game in future seasons.
The Nittany Lions host the Spartans this Saturday at 3:30 p.m at Beaver Stadium. Penn State is currently 13.5-point favorites over Michigan State.