QB T. McSorley, TE M. Gesicki
CB A. Oruwariye, DE S. Toney
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - No. 4 Penn State football (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) will take to the road once again, traveling to Northwestern (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten) for a Saturday afternoon matchup at Ryan Field.
The Nittany Lions look to extend their five-game winning streak, seeking a 6-0 start to the season for the first time since 2008 while the Wildcats enter the weekend coming off a 33-24 loss to then-No. 10 Wisconsin.
Penn State shot out to an early lead in last weekend's win against the Hoosiers, paced by a pair of teams touchdowns, marking the first time the Nittany Lions have done so in the same game since 2001. Leading 28-0 in the first quarter, Penn State didn't look back surrendering just 14 points in the 45-14 final decision.
As the Nittany Lions turn the focus toward Northwestern, Franklin noted this week that Penn State would pivot from last year's "bring your own juice" approach.
"We decided on Sunday when we talked to the staff, we're not going to do that," Franklin said. "We have a routine, our practice has been really good, let's make sure we're maximizing practice and talk about what we're going to have to do on Saturday and not change our routine."
With a noon ET start, that means kickoff will be the earliest it's been all season for the Nittany Lions. For Franklin though, keeping it in the conversation and sticking with routine means there will be no room for excuses when game time comes quickly on Saturday.
Making its first trip to Evanston, Illinois since 2015, Penn State will also look to stretch its four-game road streak. Northwestern is 2-0 at home this year, also hosting the Nittany Lions on homecoming. For Franklin and the staff, the Nittany Lions are well aware of what to expect.
"Offensively, defensively and special teams, they are going to play hard," Franklin said. "They are going to be fundamentally sound. They have good schemes, but what you see is what you get. It's been a really nice model for them and it's going to be a challenge."
Saturday's matchup will broadcast live on ABC with Steve Levy (PXP), Brian Griese (analyst) and Todd McShay (sideline) on the call.
What To Watch For - Penn State
1. Ready to Go
Penn State has been effective in making the most of a fast start this year, currently outscoring opponents 73-0 in the first quarter. As Franklin noted though, the Nittany Lions are well aware of everything from an earlier than usual start time to perhaps unfavorable weather conditions, and consistency through all four quarters is still key.
"We've got to play for four quarters," Franklin said. "We can't come out and play really well in the first quarter and then play well in the fourth quarter but kind of stall in the second or third."
2. Brother vs. Brother
Franklin joked early this week that Saturday's game will be an intramural football outing for Nittany Lions Billy Fessler and Blake Gillikin. Both Fessler and Gillikin have brothers who play at Northwestern, Charlie Fessler, a sophomore wide receiver and Tyler Gillikin, a redshirt freshman long snapper. With both Billy and Blake looking forward to the unique opportunity, perhaps nobody is happier than the Fessler and Gillikin families, who plan to attend in full family support, even with plans for custom jerseys incorporating both squads.
"I think it's really unique to have two sets of brothers on opposite teams, I'm not sure if there are any two sets of teams in the country who have that," Blake said. "It's kind of good to have another guy who is going through that experience, it's definitely different. I've never played against my brother before, I don't know what it's going to be like."
3. Team Speed
Franklin noted early this week that team speed has been a major factor in Penn State's success. On the defensive side of the ball, defensive coordinator Brent Pry only echoed it. On the year, the Penn State defense is allowing just 9.4 points per game, which is tops in the Big Ten and ranked third in FBS. For Pry, the Nittany Lions are closing better than they ever have.
"We preach converging the ball, how many snaps can we get realistically eight, nine or 10 guys around the ball and sometimes perhaps 11," Pry said. "We want to take the air out of runs. Whether it's a run play or a receiver running after the catch, we want to take the air out of the run. The more team speed, the quicker you converge and take the air out of those running lanes, I see that right now and that has certainly been a factor for us. We've missed some tackles, especially early on and there's somebody right there."
What to Watch For -
1. Quarterback Clayton Thorson
Northwestern quarterback junior Clayton Thorson is coming off a career-high performance, having completed a career-high 29 passes on the road at Wisconsin, nearly helping the Wildcats to an upset with two of three total touchdown passes in the final quarter. In the Big Ten standings, Thorson is slotted second behind Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley averaging 265.3 passing yards per game, while leading the conference with an average 22.75 completions per game.
2. Productive Running
Franklin noted that Northwestern senior running back Justin Jackson is one of the more productive running backs in the Big Ten. With 4,402 career rushing yards, Jackson has been particularly productive at home, with 230 rushing yards and three touchdowns in Northwestern's two home outings this year.
A Potential Game Wrecker
Continuing with the home-trend, Northwestern's defense is surrendering 346.5 yards per game at home this year, compared to 422 yards when playing on the road. Taking a look at the Wildcat defense, Franklin noted that the Nittany Lions are prepping for redshirt senior defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster.
"Tyler Lancaster, their defensive tackle, is a guy that we've identified as a problem and we have to be prepared for him," Franklin said.
Outside of Lancaster, linebacker Paddy Fisher and safety Godwin Igwebuike are atop the team standings with 37 and 29 tackles, respectively. With at least seven tackles in the last three games, Fisher posted eight against Wisconsin, also recording his first career forced fumble against the Badgers.
The Final Word -
Penn State is 13-5 all-time against Northwestern, but the Wildcats have claimed wins in each of the two most recent outings against the Nittany Lions in both 2014 and 2015. Regardless of what the series history says though, McSorley noted this week that the key to success would centralize on Penn State will have to execute. For McSorley, that means taking what the defense is giving, putting together and maintaining drives even if a signature go-to shot deep shot isn't available.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brent Pry took time Thursday afternoon to join the weekly assistant coaches conference call during Northwestern week.
From Northwestern to identifying where the Nittany Lion defense has improved this year, Pry covered a little bit of everything in his first weekly teleconference of the season. Catch up on a few highlights from the Q&A session.
Developing at Defensive
Pry was asked if there was anything in particular that the Nittany Lions identified as a potential worrisome area in training camp that might no longer be an issue. For Pry, an area where the Nittany Lions needed to develop some experience was at the defensive end position.
"That was probably on our mind the most," Pry said. "We had a lot of good, talented candidates and as we get further into this, they're getting more and more reps each week, whether it's in practice or in the games and we're feeling better and better about that spot."
Pry on Jason Cabinda
When asked how much senior Jason Cabinda reflects Penn State's Linebacker U, Pry was in total agreement, with the Nittany Lion coming off of a career-high 14 tackle performance against Indiana, adding a 1.5 TFLs, one sack and one fumble recovery.
"I think the game he played against Indiana, that's Jason Cabinda," Pry said. "It doesn't matter if it's zone coverage or man coverage, it doesn't matter if it's inside run or out on the perimeter. He was all over the field, sideline to sideline. Very physical presence, a lot of physical tackles, made big plays, easily scoops the fumble and tries to turn to get extra yardage. Just kind of a do it all, very physical, has a prowess out there on the field, great leader, and I think he embodies Linebacker U, I really do."
For Pry, often a game planning talking point has been identifying where an opponent presents an unfavorable speed matchup. According to Pry, it's a discussion point that's starting to go away this year. With a noticeable increase in speed on the defensive side of the ball, Pry praised the Nittany Lion performance enhancement staff for their offseason efforts.
"We're a staff that believes in team speed," Pry said. "We try and recruit to that. We try and develop that. Dwight Galt and his staff do an outstanding job through the winter, spring and summer developing that speed. Most of the guys who come in here drop their speed and are a little more explosive and cover ground a little better as we get into their career. It's certainly important, it's noticeable right now, especially in the back seven. I think we're running really well."
Cothran, Cothren and
For Pry, you grow your defense from the inside out, and no better of a position for the Nittany Lions to be in than with defensive tackles Curtis Cothran and Parker Cothren. Add in Cabinda at middle linebacker and according to Pry, it's a core of three stalwarts who are all solid, sound, tough, physical and mature.
"It's really good when your core looks like those three and then you have some depth behind them," Pry said. "That's kind of where it starts."
Big Statement on
Pry noted that defensive end Ryan Buchholz has the chance to be one of the better defensive linemen to come through Penn State - and he knows it's a big statement too.
"He's got tremendous size and he's also a very good athlete. People don't realize how athletic he is, and he's a great student of the game. If you ever watch him pre-snap, his head's on swivel, he's sizing up the whole formation, if they trade the back he sees it, if they move the tight end he sees it. He's a student of the game, he's just very mature."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State head coach James Franklin and Nittany Lion punter Blake Gillikin met with members of the media Wednesday evening following practice at the Lasch Football Building.
Catch up on a few notes from the media sessions.
Franklin noted that Penn State has reached the point in the season where he and the staff have begun taking small portions of time off the practice schedule. Still, he's pleased with the results he's seeing the on the field.
"It doesn't seem like much but individual, we go from five minute periods to four minute periods," Franklin said. "I think little changes like that at the right time throughout the year help. We still have to get the same amount of reps from a game plan perspective. The individuals and fundamentals are always important but there just comes a point where you have to start modifying practice a little bit and I thought our guys have reacted really well."
When asked what Nick Scott means to the special teams unit, Gillikin only had one word to respond with - everything.
"That guy is our captain, he is our leader. He's selfless, obviously he's not our starting safety but he plays on pretty much every single special teams. You see his energy, it's kind of a reflection of Coach Huff's energy and I think everyone else kind of feeds off that and he's kind of the centerpiece for our success on special teams."
Prepping for the
Gillikin noted that when it comes to weather conditions he tries not to check the gameday weather report too much, mostly due to the fact that every stadium is different when it comes to how much of a factor different conditions can be, especially when it comes to wind.
"It's definitely something you have to take into consideration," Gillikin said. "If you try to hang one up and you have a 15 mph wind in your face, it's not going to go anywhere. It's definitely something we think about a lot as specialists. Ultimately you have to execute regardless of the weather conditions."
Inside the Gillikin
Earlier this week, Franklin noted that can recall scuff marks on the walls at the Gillikin household, home to Penn State-Northwestern brothers Blake and Tyler, from their early days snapping and punting inside.
"What happened was, we would go down in the basement and it's not a really high basement but we'd move all the stuff and he'd fire some balls back and I'd just want to tap the ball and kind of get a spiral going and I hit the ceiling sometimes and the ball leaves pretty significant scuff marks in the ceiling," Gillikin said. "So that kind of migrated to our foyer outside our living room. So when he [Coach Franklin] walked in the door, all over the ceiling on the left side, there's pretty much brown scratches going 10 feet or something."
Although, Gillikin did note that he has plans to fix his scuff marks.
"I told my parents that I would paint the wall at some point but I haven't gotten around to it. still have that promise in here," Gillikin said tapping his heart. That's definitely something I need to do in the near future."
By Jeff Rice, Beaver Stadium Pictorial Contributor
When he moved the mattress in his son's old bedroom a few weeks ago, Shawn Allen discovered there was something carved into the baseboard. He snapped a picture with his phone and sent it to that son, asking him how long the words had been there.
"Marcus Allen is going to the NFL," it turned out, was etched into the wood by a 10-year-old, who is now a 21-year-old senior safety at Penn State.
Marcus Allen has long been confident, and his gregarious personality, his father is pleased to see, hasn't changed as he has blossomed from scrawny high schooler to one of the nation's best defensive backs. Beneath the 1,000-watt smile and the swagger, though, burns an intense drive that has sharpened its focus over the past year. That drive has gotten Allen through a couple of nerve-wracking spots that shaped the player he would become.
When Allen was a freshman at Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, he tried out for the junior varsity squad as an outside linebacker. He recalls weighing in at 150 pounds.
"He was about 135," Shawn says, laughing. "One fifty was really generous."
In any case, Allen injured his shoulder that season and missed a good chunk of time. JV coach Jeff Johnson told him he needed to bulk up if he was going to play linebacker for him as a sophomore. So Shawn took him to a local gym every afternoon -- whether he wanted to go or not.
One day, Allen was on the basketball court with his friends at the time he was supposed to be meeting his father for a workout. Shawn tracked him down and let him know, in no uncertain terms, that he needed to be in the gym.
"I was mad the whole time," Allen recalls. "I had an attitude. But I still worked out."
Those workouts put muscle on Allen's growing frame -- enough to make him a serviceable high school linebacker. But when his sophomore season at Wise began, Dalawn Parrish, the varsity head coach, had another idea: he wanted to move Allen to safety.
Allen remembers Parrish, who is a social studies teacher at the school, giving him lessons on his backpedal technique in the middle of his classroom. Further work with Roman Morris -- whose son Stephon was a Penn State defensive back at the time -- at the Prime Xample Skills Academy helped sharpen that technique as the season approached.
Shawn Allen, who was coaching the JV squad with Johnson that year, remembers being curious and even a little apprehensive when Parrish told him he was planning to move Marcus up to the varsity that season. Sure enough, Marcus beat out an upperclassman for the starting job and he made it a point after that not to give the coaches any reason to move him back to linebacker.
"I fell in love with the DBs and the DB swagger," Allen says. "I didn't want to play linebacker again."
Allen was nervous for his first start at Wise and three years after that, when Ryan Keiser suffered a scary injury in the days leading up to the Ohio State game, he found himself in a similar situation, thrust into the starting lineup as a true freshman against an offense loaded with future NFL skill players in a primetime contest.
As if the gravity of the game itself wasn't enough, Allen remembers hearing that there was an announcement back at his high school that he would be starting the game.
"I felt more pressure about letting people down," he says.
Allen's teammates told him he was in that spot for a reason. He called his father to tell him the news and Shawn did his best to pump his son's tires.
"I was terrified," Shawn says, laughing. "I was terrified the entire game."
There was little reason to be. Allen finished with 11 tackles and a pair of pass breakups as the Nittany Lions roared back from a 17-0 halftime deficit and nearly stunned the Buckeyes in overtime. He had 11 more tackles the following week against Maryland and went on to finish the season tied for third on the team with 58 tackles.
Allen had showed so much promise as a true freshman -- good range, a nose for the football, an ability to deliver hits like, well, a linebacker -- that expectations for his second season in the program might have been a little too high, at least according to media reports he saw or heard about.
"They were making me seem like I was going to be the next big thing," he says.
Like most sophomores, Allen had his ups and downs during another 7-6 season in 2015, playing through a few injuries not many people outside the program knew about. As he learned how to read quarterbacks and route trees, he also came to understand how the media who covered his team worked.
"You're going to go through trials and adversity all the time," he says. "It's how are you going to respond to it? That year, when I got all the negativity from the media, that made me want to grind harder and now that I know what it comes with."
When he represented Penn State at Big Ten Media Days this past summer in Chicago, Allen quietly made mental notes of the reporters who had been the most critical and were now quick to praise him for his standout 2016 season, when he led the squad with 110 tackles.
The aspiring broadcast journalist also made notes of which reporters had different questions to offer than the same tired lines and how they got their subjects to respond. When it comes time for Allen to move from interviewee to interviewer, he says, "I know I'll have something good that can change the game."
Those goals will have to wait, though. Allen still has a lot of football left, not only his final season of college but, if all goes well, the NFL. That mindset informed his approach to the entire offseason. During spring break, he and teammates Mark Allen, Saquon Barkley and DeSean Hamilton went to Orlando to train with performance coach Tom Shaw, whose clients at the facility included Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.
During the summer, Allen focused on nutrition, dropping some bad weight to get to his current 205 pounds, and spent much of his free time working with Hamilton and the rest of Penn State's wide receivers, sharpening his ball skills with the JUGS machine and learning everything he could about their route concepts.
He credits former Penn State wide receiver Chris Godwin with setting an example of putting in extra work, and as one of the Nittany Lions' current leaders, wants to continue spreading that example to his teammates.
"I just want to be a person that shows them the right way to act," Allen says. "Everyone's not perfect, but I want my name to be remembered when I leave Penn State as 'That guy worked hard, he still had fun but when it came to business, that's when he got serious.'"
There isn't much that makes Allen nervous on the field these days, which is the result of both his experience and the work he has put in. He likes that there are no traces of ego on the team after last year's run to the Rose Bowl, and he can sense a shared hunger to achieve even greater things in 2017.
Shawn Allen could only smile at the carving in the baseboard, knowing a goal set more than a decade ago grows closer with each day and that the player who prowls the defensive backfield for Penn State today isn't much different from the 10-year-old who wrote it, or from the 15-year-old who made his first start for Wise six years ago.
"Marcus is the same Marcus that left for Penn State in terms of his playfulness, how easygoing he is," says his father. "He's remained grounded throughout all of this."
Transcript: Franklin I Transcript: Brown and Buchholz I Watch the Press Conference I Photo Gallery
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State head coach James Franklin met with members of the media in his weekly press conference Tuesday afternoon. Linebacker Cam Brown and defensive lineman Ryan Buchholz joined Franklin for a pair of media sessions during Northwestern week.
For Franklin, he had high praise for the Wildcats, who much like a previous Iowa team, have coaching consistency across the board with one of the longest tenured head coaches in the Big Ten.
"Very little change in his career there in his staffs," Franklin said. "Offensively, defensively and special teams, they are going to play hard. They are going to be fundamentally sound. They have got good schemes. But what you see is what you get. You know, it's been a really nice model for them and it's going to be a challenge."
Although still early in the week, both Franklin and Brown were quick to point out Northwestern's physicality.
"They're a Big Ten team," Brown said. "They're playing very physical and that's the one thing standing out to me. Just like Iowa, they're physical. Indiana is a little bit more spread and throwing the ball, so they're definitely a switch up from Indiana. It's like going back to playing a Big Ten team that wants to run the ball. They throw a lot but it's kind of like the players play physical Big Ten football."
For Buchholz, preparations are already well underway with early film studies outlining what the Nittany Lion defense can key in on headed toward Saturday.
"Just yesterday we were going over the type of offense they run, usually we go over their favorite plays, so that if we see them in that formation we kind of have that idea in the back of our head. So we pretty much just went over some of the things based off their favorite formations, favorite plays, things like that."
On the Quote Board -
- Franklin on his earliest visits to the Gillikin household. Blake and twin brother Tyler are one of two sets of Penn State-Northwestern brothers set to meet on opposite teams Saturday.
"I remember going to Blake's house for the official visits and there was scuff marks and holes and everything all over the walls because his brother, Tyler, used to snap it to him and he would drop it and do a light punt in the house, so there was stuff all over the place. That should be pretty cool. I know talking to Mrs. Gillikin this week, she's already got a jersey that's been made that's sewed in half, so she's going to spend the first half on one sideline and the next half on the other one."
- Buchholz on the progress of Yetur Gross-Matos
"Definitely his knowledge of the defense. We're roommates in the hotel, and during our tests, I'll ask him if he has any questions, stuff like that, and each week he's having less and less questions about it. At practice, he's having less missed assignments and stuff like that, so I think his knowledge of the game is really helping. His talent, size and speed is obviously good enough to play at this level. Now it's the knowledge part he's getting down."
- Franklin on team speed.
"I think our team speed in general has improved dramatically. I think the defensive side of the ball and also special teams - I think it's been a major factor, there's no doubt. And obviously Saquon [Barkley] is somebody that everyone thinks about when you talk about speed. I think we would all agree that he has gotten faster. You know, three years ago, he got caught on a lot of those long runs."
- Brown on getting to his ideal weight, while also balancing size with speed and what he has learned from someone like Jason Cabinda.
with Jason, he's definitely shown me that you don't really need the weight to
bring the thump. With him losing that, it shows that weight isn't really a
crazy factor in the game."
- Buchholz on where he has improved the most from week one to now.
"I would say just with the plays. I know I've been in the system for three years now, but just getting more game experience with plays, especially last week with Indiana and their fast-pace offense. We would have to look at the sideline and get the call real quick and you've got to know what you're doing like that."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State football is out to its first 5-0 start to the season since 2008 following Saturday's 45-14 win against Indiana. With wins in each of the first two Big Ten outings, the Nittany Lions are once again looking toward the road, prepping to visit Northwestern for the first time since 2015.
Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald addressed members of the media this afternoon to talk Saturday's outing, which kicks off at noon in Ryan Field.
In his opening statement, Fitzgerald named Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, quarterback Trace McSorley and wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton as three of the most dynamic Nittany Lions.
"Barkley is maybe the best player I've ever seen on tape," Fitzgerald said. "I've played against some pretty good backs, I've coached against some pretty good backs and he's just absolutely spectacular. He's great in the run game, he's great in protection, he's great catching the ball out of the backfield, he's a great return man and he does it all, he's an outstanding football player."
Both Barkley and Hamilton earned Big Ten weekly honors following some eye-popping performances in the win against the Hoosiers.
Barkley sent the crowd into a complete frenzy from the start, ripping off a 98-yard touchdown return on the opening kickoff. As the first player in the last 20 years with 50 rushing yards, 50 receiving yards, a passing touchdown and a kickoff return for a touchdown in a game, Barkley put every emphasis on just how dynamic he can be.
Saquon fatigue? Don't follow me, because I can't get enough of his highlights. pic.twitter.com/9DPuXULY6j-- Brent Yarina (@BTNBrentYarina) October 1, 2017
Fitzgerald was also impressed with McSorley, who enters the week atop the Big Ten standings and 30th in FBS averaging 270.4 yard per game, with a .656 completion percentage good for third in the conference.
"I think Trace is a great player," Fitzgerald said. "The opportunity to make plays with his legs, he is really impressive, he's a definite threat in the run game to compliment Saquon."
One of McSorley's top targets Saturday of course was Hamilton, who pulled in nine catches for 122 receiving yards and three touchdowns to ascend to the top of the Penn State all-time list for career receptions.
"For Hamilton to be the all-time leader in receptions, I mean I played against Bobby Engram and I don't think we covered him once so to see that type of success and his career is unbelievable," Fitzgerald said.
Special Teams Surging
Sparked by Barkley's big run, Penn State had two special teams scores against IU, with Irvin Charles popping the ball loose for the forced fumble before Nick Scott scooped for the 13-yard touchdown. Charles was solid on special teams for the Nittany Lions, something Scott attributes to his speed.
"He plays extremely fast and extremely hard. He's a guy who has a little grit to him, a little attitude and that fits perfectly on special teams because you have to have a savage mentality to play out there when everything is flying around at full speed," Scott said.
As Scott also noted though, part of the credit goes to punter Blake Gillikin for his placement in punts, which has been spot on through five games this year. Matching a career-high mark, Gillikin sent four punts inside the 20-yard line against Indiana including two inside the 10-yard line, marking the 15th time he's done so in his career.
Also interesting to note, for the first time this week, Gillikin and his brother Tyler will meet on the field on opposite teams. Tyler, Blake's twin brother, is a long snapper for the Wildcats, who hasn't played alongside his brother since helping the Westminster Schools to the Georgia AAA State Championship in 2015.
Fitzgerald: The most experienced,
competitive group we've seen
On the defensive side of the ball, Fitzgerald named linebacker Jason Cabinda as well as safety Marcus Allen. Outside of Cabinda, Fitzgerald noted that the Nittany Lion secondary is probably the most experienced and most competitive group Northwestern has seen.
"They challenge everything, they're physical, they've got a great package with their zone pressure stuff," Fitzgerald said.
Penn State's secondary has also been especially effective in creating turnovers this year, with the Nittany Lions gaining 14 turnovers on the year, which is double the number from last year through five games.
The Nittany Lions created four turnovers against the Hoosiers, with three coming on IU fumbles. Penn State has forced eight fumbles on the year, led by two from Marcus Allen. Allen forced a key third quarter fumble that Parker Cothren recovered to set up a Nittany Lion touchdown drive.
Penn State's Christian Campbell also forced a fumble in the fourth quarter, which Cabinda grabbed for a four-yard return that eventually led to a McSorley touchdown to give the Nittany Lions a 14-0 lead with 11:41 left in the first quarter. Campbell also finished with one pass breakup, marking his sixth consecutive game breaking up at least one pass.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Before Saturday's Indiana matchup, wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton knew right where he was slotted on Penn State's all-time career receptions list.
Before pulling on his custom "Generations of Greatness" uniform inside the locker room at Beaver Stadium, Hamilton had already caught 172 career passes for the Nittany Lions, but career records were hardly top of mind as kickoff arrived.
Hamilton's first reception of the day came on Penn State's first scoring drive in the first quarter, a 4-yard grab with the Nittany Lions already leading 7-0 helped out by running back Saquon Barkley's sensational 98-yard return for a touchdown on the opening kickoff. His second, a 23-yard pass from quarterback Trace McSorley. It was his third, that sent Penn State surging ahead 28-0, this time an 8-yard touchdown grab from McSorley right before halftime.
As Hamilton's receptions piled up, it seemed only fitting that his seventh catch of the day to tie the all-time record came by way of a 24-yard touchdown pass from McSorley in the third quarter, one that almost got wiped away.
"I was sweating bullets," Hamilton said postgame looking back on the play. "I was hoping and praying. This was my first multi-touchdown game too. I didn't know if I was going to get another target in the red zone. I was praying and hoping they didn't call offensive pass interference."
Hamilton only continued though, officially climbing to the top spot in the Penn State record book on a 25-yard grab from McSorley in the fourth quarter, jumping in the air to make the catch along the sideline.
"During the game, I didn't really keep track of it until I heard it on the loudspeaker and then really, it felt special right then and there," Hamilton said. "Coming off the field and guys congratulating me, that was really special too."
He was hardly finished though, closing out a record-setting day with a 16-yard touchdown catch from Barkley. Yes, Barkley.
"We've been going over that play for a little while," Hamilton said. "Obviously Saquon is going to draw a lot of attention when he has the ball in hands so the last thing people are going to expect is for him to throw the ball so that play just worked out perfectly."
Perfect is exactly the way to describe his third touchdown grab of the day, or career reception No. 181.
In total, Hamilton led the Nittany Lions past the Hoosiers for a fifth consecutive win with nine receptions for 122 yards and three touchdowns, marking his sixth-career 100-yard receiving performance. His first career outing with three touchdown catches also marked the most touchdown grabs for a Nittany Lion since Allen Robinson had three in 2012, a former Nittany Lion who Hamilton also passed on the way to 181.
"It's really cool seeing the names of the guys I passed on the list and seeing how great of players they were here and basically how great their careers were after this, it's really special to see," Hamilton said. "It really just goes to a lot of hard work that I've put in, a lot of guys that have been working with me, it's really special."
Getting to 181 career receptions is by no means an effortless accomplishment, but now it's all part of a challenging journey for Hamilton, who proved year in and year out that in the end, hard work wins.
In his redshirt freshman season following an injury that sidelined him in 2013, Hamilton started all 13 games and finished atop the Big Ten standings with 82 receptions, ranked fourth with 69.2 receiving yards per game and fifth with 889 receiving yards. By 2015 though, Hamilton finished his sophomore season with 45 receptions and 580 receiving yards and closed out the 2016 season with 34 receptions and 506 receiving yards, although averaging 14.9 yards per catch.
In the offseason following a Big Ten Championship year in which he highlighted the title game with eight catches and 118 yards, there's perhaps no better example of tenacity than in Hamilton's drive and determination to make the most of 2017.
Beaming with pride at the mention of Hamilton's record, Penn State head coach James Franklin noted postgame that he addressed Hamilton's milestone in the locker room following the 45-14 win against Indiana.
"I think he is a great example for our younger players, I think he is a great example in general," Franklin said. "He gets here as a true freshman, he has a pre-existing injury and sits out his entire freshman year. Next year, plays as a redshirt-freshman, has a huge year. One year he leads the Big Ten in catches, the next year his numbers go way down, he stays positive, he just keep working and grinding to get through it. He has had a great career, he has been a great leader, a great teammate and he's a great student.
Long before Saturday though, Franklin, the staff, and seemingly each and every one of Hamilton's teammates all could have easily predicted his success. From spring ball on through training camp, Hamilton's name came up in nearly every media session as a Nittany Lion poised to step forward for a big impact headed into another year in Penn State's explosive offense. Off the field though, there were just as many references to his soon-to-be success as there were about his character.
"Nobody works harder than that guy and no one deserves it more than him," McSorley said. "I mean he works so hard on his own, early morning, late nights when nobody is around, honestly nobody knows about that but himself. That dude, he's put in so much work his whole career. He has had his ups and downs throughout his career, but he's continued to step up and never let that waver his work ethic."Hamilton Makes History