STATE COLLEGE — Just a month ago, Big Ten conference and college football aficionados billed this week’s Penn State-Purdue contest as one of the season’s most enticing. The Big Ten matchup pitted two of the game’s more explosive players in Penn State receiver KJ Hamler against Purdue receiver Rondale Moore.
Those storylines dissipated last week when Moore went down with a leg injury against Minnesota that will sideline him this weekend when the Boilermakers visit Happy Valley.
Hamler said he reached out to his counterpart with words of encouragement.
“I texted him when I found out he was hurt, probably after a day or two, to check in with him,” Hamler said. “(I) just told him I was praying for him. Outside of the game, we’re all family.”
No. 12 Penn State (4-0, 1-0) returns to Beaver Stadium on Saturday (noon on ESPN) for its homecoming contest against Purdue (1-3, 0-1). Purdue will also be without quarterback Elijah Sindelar, who coincidentally suffered a broken clavicle on the same play that saw Moore injured.
Purdue backup quarterback Jack Plummer has been tabbed as Sindelar’s replacement, while wide receiver David Bell will see an increase in production with Moore unavailable.
Plummer was 23 of 41 passing for 245 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in relief last week against Minnesota, and Bell posted career-high numbers with 114 yards receiving on eight catches.
Penn State head coach James Franklin earlier this week said Purdue’s injury absences make scouting the Boilermakers on film a bit difficult. In addition to leading Purdue in yards receiving (387), Moore also leads the Boilermakers in kickoff (151) and punt return (36) yards.
“Like I was saying on special teams, not having Rondale, that significantly impacts how they are going to call special teams,” Franklin said. “Same things on offense … Do they feel like they have someone that can play the role or are they going to play differently? I think probably the second half of the Minnesota game is probably the most valuable half for us, once the personnel changes happened.”
Even without Moore, Franklin believes Bell’s talented enough to enhance Purdue’s passing attack. He ranks second on the team with 244 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
“Bell reminds me in a lot of ways of Chris Godwin and DaeSean Hamilton,” Franklin said. “Big, strong, a great route runner. He seems to catch everything in his vicinity, and even during the recruiting process, he’s just got a very steady, level-headed temperament, and you see that on the field.”
Penn State’s offense, coming off a 619-yard performance against Maryland, will look to exploit Purdue’s porous secondary. Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan dissected the group for 396 yards passing and four touchdowns last week. Morgan connected on 21 of his 22 pass attempts.
The Boilermakers rank 118th nationally and last in the Big Ten in pass defense (296.5 yards per game). Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman last week accounted for 177 yards and two touchdowns on six catches.
The matchup bodes well for Hamler and the Nittany Lions receiving corps, which was responsible for 421 yards and three touchdowns on 29 receptions against the Terrapins.
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford posted the best outing of his budding career against the Terrapins. He threw for 398 yards and three touchdowns en route to earning co-offensive Big Ten Player of the Week honors earlier this week.
The Nittany Lions defense last Friday limited Maryland to four first downs and a Terrapin season-low 128 yards of offense. The defensive front menaced Maryland quarterbacks Josh Jackson and Tyrrell Pigrome to the tune of four sacks (Ellis Johnson 2.5 and Adisa Issac 1.5), and Maryland running backs tallied just 60 yards.
Penn State’s defense recorded two interceptions (linebacker Jan Johnson and defensive back Tariq Castro-Fields) and a fumble recovery (Keaton Ellis).
“I thought probably the most impressive thing is the level that we played for four quarters with the twos, with the threes, and, at some spots, the fours,” Franklin said. “It was impressive. They played up to the standard for four quarters, so very pleased with that.”
Purdue seeks its first win since defeating Vanderbilt 42-24 at home on Sept. 7. Penn State has won eight consecutive against Purdue.
Penn State on Saturday will don its Generation of Greatness uniforms for homecoming. The Nittany Lions debuted the throwback-themed digs in 2017 against Indiana.
The uniforms will include a white helmet emblazoned with numbers on the side and gray facemasks. Penn State’s blue tops will feature a white band at the bottom of both sleeves, and the pants will feature a blue stripe.
The uniform revamp will also include striped socks along with a team favorite, white cleats.
“I love them; I wish we wore them every day,” Hamler said of the cleats.
Penn State defensive tackle Robert Windsor agreed.
“We really like the white cleats,” Windsor said. “They really pop.”
Franklin said the opportunity to wear the alternate uniforms has infused the team with welcomed energy and excitement.
“They love it,” Franklin said. “It’s really come at a good time for us because it’s just kind of a change of pace. It’s like changing practice up. It’s like a bye week – it’s just something new and fresh.”