Every year Penn State seems to have one guy that carries the load of their offense. In 2017 it was Saquon Barkley, a man who has become a legend in Happy Valley, and a superstar in the NFL. Last year it was Miles Sanders, another back who has begun to make strides with the Philadelphia Eagles, and is likely their running back of the future.
This year, a wide receiver has taken that role, KJ Hamler. The Nittany Lions find a way to implement this guy into their offense every single week. He has over 60 receiving yards in 5 of the 6 games Penn State has played this season, and has surpassed the century mark twice in that span.
In total, Hamler has 26 receptions, 455 yards, and 5 touchdowns on the season with an average of 17.5 yards per reception. When the ball gets into his hands, very good things happen for the Nittany Lions offense. He is a vertical threat, but can also make defenders look silly off of quick slants and screens, while having the speed to breakaway from nearly any defender.
The goal for the Michigan defense will be to contain Penn State’s most explosive weapon. The way that this game gets out of hand is by allowing the Nittany Lion’s offense to have big plays via the hands of Hamler. He has had a 20+ yard reception in every game this season, and has had three receptions of 45 yards or more.
Michigan, of course, runs a man-to-man defense. I’d hope that Don Brown would be wise enough to not just expect one guy to be able to contain him, but we have seen more ludicrous things from him in the past.
Having senior safety Josh Metellus in coverage over the top could certainly help any corner who may cover him, but I will be really interested to see what the Michigan defense does when they move him into the slot. We have already seen Brown put guys like Jordan Glasgow in coverage in those situations, but that is a recipe for disaster in a game like this. I expect Khaleke Hudson to help out a bit more in coverage in that situation.
When Hamler is lined up on the outside, I’d love to see the Wolverines throw a couple different corners at him. Ambry Thomas may be the best of the bunch as we speak, but Lavert Hill has the experience and veteran leadership, even though he isn’t having as great of a season this year. Heck, Vincent Gray has even showed flashes of being a strong corner throughout the season.
No matter who it is, someone has to slow down KJ Hamler in this ballgame, because if he runs free the Wolverines could be in big trouble. No one has been able to fully shut down this kid yet in 2019 and it would be extremely interesting to see where the James Franklin and his offense turns if they cannot target their biggest playmaker.
The Wolverines take the field on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET in Happy Valley to take on Penn State in what could be the game that defines the direction of the remainder of the season.