Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz shared high praise for Penn State wideout KJ Hamler, labeling him a “rare” talent on Tuesday afternoon.
“He’s one of those rare players who has the capability of hitting a home run,” Ferentz said during a conference call with Penn State reporters. “And there aren’t a lot of guys like that in baseball, and there aren’t a lot of guys like that in football. But he is truly one of those guys; he’s already demonstrated that.”
Against the Hawkeyes last season, Hamler boasted a game-high five catches for a game-high 96 yards — accounting for nearly half of Trace McSorley’s 194 passing yards — and he also returned a punt 67 yards. (Penn State won 30-24.)
The 5-foot-9 playmaker has flashed again this season, already registering a pair of 100-yard receiving games. He’s fourth in the Big Ten in receiving yards (394) despite catching just 19 balls and playing in one fewer game than most of his conference colleagues.
“Any time he’s on the field, you just have to be so aware,” Ferentz added. “And it’s one thing to be aware, but then you got to try to figure out how to defend him. He really hurt us last year in the game, and he’s done that to other people as well — so it’s not like we’re the only ones.”
The No. 17 Hawkeyes will be well-aware of Hamler when they take on the No. 10 Nittany Lions at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. Even Iowa defensive back Michael Ojemudia remembered Hamler when asked about him at Big Ten media days over the summer.
“Whenever the ball’s in his hands, he can go the whole distance,” Ojemudia told the Centre Daily Times. “So the challenge for us is not to let him get the ball, or to let him get minimum yards after the catch.”
Said Ferentz: “It just keeps the pressure on everybody to stay on their toes, and you really have to be smart in your approach.”
Here’s everything Ferentz said about Penn State during the Tuesday afternoon conference call with reporters from Pennsylvania:
(On the similarities and differences between the Michigan and Penn State defenses)
“Their schemes are different. It’s a different scheme, different style. But the similarities are both teams have really good players at all three levels — up front, linebackers and secondary. So they’ve got good players and multiple players. It’s not just 11 guys; they got more than that. And I think the other comparable is that they play hard, they play smart, and they just keep the pressure on you.
“And Michigan’s a bit more of a blitz outfit. Not that Penn State won’t blitz, but Michigan is a little bit more of a blitz outfit so, literally, they put pressure on you. But Penn State does it without even putting pressure on you; they’re putting pressure on you because they got guys that can really be disruptive and make plays. So it’s a challenge. There’s a reason they’re both so good on defense, and it makes it a challenge.”
(On the Penn State pass-rush and DE Shaka Toney)
“I would say this: Their ends, it’s kind of the same way last year with 48 (Shareef Miller) — I can’t remember his name, but he was a really good player and he’s playing somewhere in the NFL. Their ends look like NFL guys. They’re linear. Not skinny, but they’re linear. They’re tall, they all move extremely well — and I know 99 (Yetur Gross-Matos) has gotten a lot of attention, but the other guy is really good too. And they bring a guy in; I think it’s 28 (Jayson Oweh), who’s kind of similar so it almost looks like they’re all cloned.
“They’re linear guys that play the run well and really rush the passer. They have great takeoff, get-off on the snap. Those guys up front are well-coached, they’re aggressive, and their inside guys are heavier, stockier guys but their outside guys look like NFL defensive ends. They kind of look like an NFL defensive front because of that, both inside and outside.”
(On what he sees in QB Sean Clifford after facing Trace McSorley the last three seasons)
“Well, I mean, nobody can probably say enough about McSorley. It’s interesting. He was not a Nike Elite guy, I don’t think. I don’t know how many elite camps he went to as a quarterback, but I think he got about every award you can get in the Big Ten. And rightfully so. And obviously a really good quarterback but, looking across the field, he looked like an extremely strong leader. I’m sure I’m stating the obvious there.
“So can’t say that about Clifford yet, about the leadership part. But as far as running their offense and throwing the ball well and running effectively, he’s done both of those things. And, quite honestly, I was hoping — I didn’t know what he looked like or would look like, and I was certainly hoping that wouldn’t be the case. But he’s doing a really good job in both regards, and I can’t speak to the leadership part of it, but it seems like they’re doing pretty well from where I’m sitting. They’re 5-0 and playing with great momentum, so I think everyone has to be very, very impressed with the job he’s done — especially for a young, inexperienced player like that.”
(On WR KJ Hamler and his explosiveness)
“Oh, yeah, any time he’s on the field, you just have to be so aware. And it’s one thing to be aware, but then you got to try to figure out how to defend him. He really hurt us last year in the game, and he’s done that to other people as well — so it’s not like we’re the only ones. But to your point, it’s every offensive snap and then every time he’s back in the return position.
“He’s one of those rare players who has the capability of hitting a home run. And there aren’t a lot of guys like that in baseball, and there aren’t a lot of guys like that in football. But he is truly one of those guys; he’s already demonstrated that. I think it was the first or second series last week, right? They hit him with a single-coverage touchdown. It was a beautiful play. And it’s the same thing in the kicking game; he’s got the capability of taking it.
“It just keeps the pressure on everybody to stay on their toes, and you really have to be smart in your approach.”
(On what sticks out to him about the PSU defense besides the pass-rush)
“We talked about consistency on the call earlier. We’ve seen them a while now, and they keep tweaking their scheme and they change it here and there. But I think the bottom line is they know who they are, what they are, what they want to do and how to do it. And not every team can say that, as simple as it sounds.
“And the other key is having players — even though the faces change — that having players that are really playing with a defensive temperament. They sure seem to do that. They do everything really well, whether it’s vs. the pass or vs. the run. They’re just a well-coached group that plays, and they don’t give up very many easy plays.
“And that’s they key to defense. If you’re not giving up the big play, making your opponent work and putting them in bad positions, that gives you a chance to be a pretty good defensive team. And they’re certainly doing that.”