KJ Hamler is starting to reach Saquon Barkley-territory, if he hasn’t already. It’s gotten to the point where there just isn’t much new you can say after he consistently goes out and and takes over games. He did it once again on Saturday to guide Penn State to victory against Michigan, the first time the Nittany Lions have won consecutive games against ranked opponents since 2005.
Hamler did exactly what he’s been doing since his first game as a Nittany Lion in 2018- proved to be the best player on either side of the ball whenever he was on the field. He made Michigan pay for putting him in single coverage on his first touchdown, which gave Penn State a 21-0 lead that turned out to be a necessity after Michigan came alive prior to halftime. Later, he staved off what seemed to be an inevitable Michigan rally by again torching his defender, this time for a 53-yard touchdown reception on a beautifully thrown pass by Sean Clifford. Those were the two biggest highlights of a fantastic game where he had six catches for 108 yards- more than three times the amount of Penn State’s second-leading receiver on the day.
If that wasn’t enough, Hamler was involved in two plays that proved just how special he is- despite all the jaw-dropping performances during the past year-and-a-half. He nearly had a 100-plus yard kickoff return to open up the second half, that unfortunately was called back due to a holding penalty that wouldn’t have made a difference anyways. He made his way from end zone to end zone, traveling just a little over 100 yards in 10.99 seconds with pads on. It’s something to still marvel, outcome aside.
He also put away Michigan for good. On a third down where Penn State absolutely needed to convert to run out the clock, everyone in the stadium and even the Guatemalan nuns watching their very first game of American Football assumed Noah Cain would get the ball once again to try to earn three tough yards. Instead, Hamler motioned into the backfield, took the handoff and then with all the force his (listed) 176 lbs. could muster, lowered his shoulder into the teeth of a fantastic Wolverines defense to churn out four yards. As Michigan had already burned two timeouts on the previous plays, it allowed Penn State to go to Victory formation to escape with a huge win against a bitter rival in one of the most electric atmospheres ever witnessed in Beaver Stadium.
It was a stunning performance, but it was also just KJ being KJ.
LB Micah Parsons - We all knew Parsons has ridiculous athleticism, but his drive to get better and better continues to become obvious each Saturday. Parsons is so fast that it seems like he vaporizes and then magically appears to stuff a runner each time a hole begins to open. After one of those plays, I started to scream “Nice job, Lavar!” before catching myself. Parsons finished with a team-leading 14 tackles. More impressively, eight of those resulted in a run of one-yard or less.
S Garrett Taylor - The senior safety has had a quietly outstanding season, but especially stood out against the Wolverines. He finished with eight tackles on the day that included six solo tackles in space. He also had the only sack of the day, igniting the White Out crowd into a frenzy.
QB Sean Clifford - It wasn’t a wildly prolific day for Penn State’s signal caller, but he had a hand in all four Penn State scores, throwing three touchdown passes, each on a beautifully thrown ball, and ran in another for four total touchdowns for the night.
P Blake Gillikin - Despite the Big Ten officials allowing opponents to run into Gillikin, he continues to show how he’s one of the best in the business. The senior had several booming punts on the night that forced Michigan’s offense to truly earn each score. He had eight punts on the day with a 44 yard average, and a long of 60 yards.