PITTSBURGH — The KJ Hamler show continued on Saturday night.
Penn State’s redshirt freshman wide receiver is quickly becoming the sparkplug for the Nittany Lions offense, scoring both touchdowns in a sloppy first half for both teams. That gave him three scores in the first six quarters of the season.
Penn State dusted off the jet sweep on the offense’s opening possession, putting Hamler in motion to take a handoff from Trace McSorley. He sprinted off left tackle and raced to the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown to open the game.
He also found paydirt on the Lions’ final drive of the first half, coming wide open in the front of the end zone for a 14-yard score.
That touchdown extended McSorley’s national-best streak to 30 games with a touchdown pass.
He also had another strong kick return, as his 5-foot-9 frame hurdled a defender and barely lost speed when he landed, drawing a face mask flag in the process to give the Lions the ball across midfield.
Earlier in the week, Hamler talked about regaining his confidence after missing his senior year of high school in 2016 because of an ACL injury. He redshirted in 2017.
“You don’t know if you’re going to be the same,” Hamler said. “Just to come out and make an impact right away, that means everything.”
• Junior cornerback John Reid didn’t finish out the opener against Appalachian State. He didn’t see the field at all in the first half against Pitt, though he did dress for the game.
Reid, who missed all of 2017 while recovering from a serious knee injury, started last week but appeared to head off the field slowly after a series in the second half and did not return.
Sophomore Tariq Castro-Fields got his first career start in Reid’s place. Redshirt freshman Donovan Johnson came in as the fifth defensive back in the nickel after playing a decent amount in the opener.
• For the second straight week, quarterback/all-around threat Tommy Stevens threw the ball around upon arriving at the field but did not warm-up with the rest of the quarterbacks after the pads went on. He suited up but did not play.
• Sophomore defensive end Shane Simmons made the trip but did not dress for the second straight week.
• After being suspended for the opener, Kevin Givens returned to start at defensive tackle.
• Brandon Polk started at receiver ahead of DeAndre Thompkins, who did play but had yet to be targeted in the first six quarters of the season.
Keeping track of Penn State’s true freshman class under the new redshirt rule, which allows players to appear in up to four games without losing a year of eligibility:
Kickers Rafael Checa and Jake Pinegar, linebackers Micah Parsons and Jesse Luketa, running back Ricky Slade and tight end Pat Freiermuth all played in the first half, their second appearance of the season.
The Lions have two relative tune-ups on the schedule before Ohio State comes to town at the end of September.
First up is a visit from struggling MAC outfit Kent State, which earned the first win for new coach Sean Lewis on Saturday with a 54-14 drubbing of FCS Howard. A trip to Illinois follows the next week for a Friday night affair.
The Golden Flashes had nearly pulled an upset of the Fighting Illini the opener, but lost a 14-3 halftime lead, falling 31-24.
Lewis is a former staffer under Syracuse boss Dino Babers and is looking to bring his up-tempo offense to Kent State. He has former Auburn recruit Woody Barrett at quarterback, who has already proven to be a decent dual-threat player.
Kickoff is set for noon at Beaver Stadium on FS1.
Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse