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Stats And Storylines: KJ Hamler Put His Shoulder Down

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It was a tough game and on the final meaningful play, the smallest player on the field was asked to run the ball through the teeth of the defense.

Michigan v Penn State Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

It looked like it might be a blowout for the home team, leading 21-0 and everything was coming pretty easy. Michigan’s defense answered the call and kept the game close until the end. It was KJ Hamler, on a run up the middle, that iced the game in the closing minutes.

The crowd inside Beaver Stadium was a factor all night and the atmosphere was as good as it gets in college football. It wasn’t easy, but the Lions have a record of 7-0 with a trip to East Lansing up next.

With so much focus on the four talented Penn State running backs, KJ Hamler and Sean Clifford had key runs that allowed the Lions to prevail in a tough Big Ten match-up. There wasn’t much rushing yardage to be had outside one long run by Ricky Slade, but the first downs on the ground kept the chains moving, and at the end of the game, the clock running.

First Half

  • Three running backs saw the field in the first quarter while Devyn Ford got his first shot in the second quarter. C.J. Thorpe entered at right guard in the 2nd quarter after Mike Miranda got the start. Des Holmes entered at left tackle for the first series of the second quarter.
  • Jesse Luketa and Ellis Brooks each made appearances at linebacker in the first quarter. Brandon Smith entered in the second quarter, making it 6 linebackers to see the field in the first half. Jaquan Brisker and Jonathan Sutherland rotated in at safety. Marquis Wilson was the first cornerback off the bench, entering for John Reid in the second quarter.
  • Micah Parsons was all over the field in the first half, recording a game-high 8 tackles, 4 solo.

KJ Hamler had a nice touchdown catch to extend the lead to 21-0 in the second quarter. Michigan played straight man coverage with no safety help on Hamler and the speedy wideout made them pay. He took a safety to the corner of the end zone on a foot race, winning easily.

Pat Freiermuth and Jahan Dotson cut inside to take their defenders away from where Hamler was going. Take a look from another angle and you can see that the offensive line provided the protection needed to give Sean Clifford time to make a good throw, blocking 5 with 5 and no double teams. Rasheed Wallace (53) slowed Aidan Hutchinson (97) down just enough, the other four blockers held strong. Ricky Slade monitored Will Fries’ progress at right tackle before going out for a pass.

Second Half

The teams played a game of field position in the second half, swapping punts for the first few possessions. Blake Gillikin got off a booming punt, good for 60 yards. Dan Chisena covered the punt perfectly, making the tackle for no gain. It’s plays like these that are going to get Chisena a look at the next level. Not only does he have blazing speed, and will be able to play receiver, but he will be a weapon on special teams.

Michigan punted the ball back after getting a couple of first downs. The Lions were unable to do anything with it and a few plays later Gillikin sent it back to the Wolverines.

Finally the streak was broken when Michigan put together a 65 yard drive, concluding with a 12 yard run by Zach Charbonnet to cut the lead to 21-14 with 1:05 to play in the 3rd quarter.

After a third quarter that saw the Lions’ offense struggle, Ricky Rahne’s squad answered the call. A pass interference gave Penn State a first down, then KJ Hamler caught a pass on 3rd down of the next series. On the next play, Hamler got behind the defense to give the Lions a 28-14 lead with 13:14 to go. It felt as though the final dagger had been thrust into the battling Wolverines.

Michigan answered, driving all the way down the field for a 75 yard touchdown. On fourth down Shea Patterson appeared to be stopped short of the line, but after a long delay, the call was made for a touchdown. After a review, the call stood, cutting the lead to 7 with 8:48 to play. It would be hard to overturn this spot once it was made, but it was also a mystery how this was seen as a touchdown.

Penn State was forced to punt three plays later and after a good return, Michigan started at Penn State’s 46 yard line. The Wolverines converted a 4th and 4 to continue the drive at the 21.

A couple of plays later Michigan had first and goal at the 7. On 4th and goal from the 3 the ball fell incomplete on a pass to Ronnie Bell, with Lamont Wade providing tight coverage. It was a ball that Bell could have caught and he was later seen on the sideline inconsolable, crying. Penn State made a great stand but it could just as easily have been a tie game after that play.

The Lions brought in Noah Cain to try to gain first downs to grind out the clock. Cain got 5 yards on first down then 2 on second down. On third down everyone expected Cain to get the ball but instead KJ Hamler motioned into the backfield and took the handoff, running hard up the middle for the first down.

Hamler took a shot to the head and may not have gotten enough for the first down had he not spun and continued forward after the initial contact. Tight end Nick Bowers (83) made a great block on Aidan Hutchinson (97) to set the edge. C.J. Thorpe (69) led the way through the hole along with Pat Freiermuth (87), and Thorpe pulled Hamler forward slightly at the very end of the play. That’s some nice run blocking from big 69 and his friends on a critical short yardage play.

Game Notes

  • Micah Parsons finished with 14 tackles, 6 solo. Cam Brown had 10 tackles, 2 solo. Garrett Taylor had 8 tackles, 6 solo including a tackle for loss and a sack. Tariq Castro-Fields had 8 tackles, an interception and a pass break up.
  • Ricky Slade broke off a 44 yard run right up the middle the first time he touched the ball. Penn State only added 57 yards to that run, with Journey Brown gaining 19 on 4 carries, Noah Cain had 19 on 5 carries, and Sean Clifford added 17 on 11 carries. KJ Hamler ran twice for 6 yards, including the most important yardage of the game.
  • Blake Gillikin punted 8 times for an average of 44 yards per kick. There were a few times that the team needed field position to help the defense. Gillikin continuously gave the team plenty of room to work with.
  • KJ Hamler finished with 6 catches and 108 yards, including 2 touchdowns. In the post-game press conference coach Franklin referred to Hamler as a ‘power back’ for the final first down run of the game. Hamler has done a lot for the team in the past two years, finishing the game as a power back was something new.