Shaun Wade remembers KJ Hamler.
Hamler, a redshirt sophomore wide receiver for Penn State who leads the Nittany Lions in receiving yards by a healthy margin, caught a career-long touchdown against the redshirt sophomore cornerback when Ohio State played Penn State in 2018.
Penn State’s primary slot receiving weapon will come to Ohio Stadium Saturday to face the Buckeyes with the rest of the Nittany Lions’ offense. Wade, Ohio State’s starting slot corner, is adjusting accordingly.
“We’ve gotta get back in the lab and prepare,” Wade said. “They’ve got [Hamler], their quarterback’s real good, they always have good running backs.”
Up 6-0 with the ball at its own 7-yard-line, Penn State faced third-and-5 at home against Ohio State Sept. 29, 2018. Hamler split out at slot receiver, covered by Wade, an alignment that both will undertake on plenty of occasions Saturday.
Hamler took two steps straight ahead, then turned to a slant route. The quick cut left Wade two steps behind.
The Michigan native outran the Ohio State defense to the sideline, polishing off a 93-yard touchdown reception untouched — 85 yards coming after the catch.
Ohio State pieced together a comeback to win the contest 27-26, but Wade still vividly remembers the play.
“It’s definitely still in my head,” Wade said. “I try not to think about it.”
Ohio State can clinch the Big Ten East division title with a win against Penn State, locking in a berth to the Big Ten title game.
Hamler is the team’s leading receiver with 791 yards on the season, 367 more than the next-best target for redshirt sophomore quarterback Sean Clifford. Hamler finished with four receptions for 138 yards and a touchdown against the Buckeyes in 2018.
After leaving with concussion-like symptoms in the Nittany Lions’ Week 12 matchup against Indiana, Hamler is questionable for Saturday’s game. Wade hopes to see him on the field.
“I want their best. I want everybody that they say that’s gonna play. I want everybody,” Wade said.
If the two do square off, it’ll be a battle of two players entering the field on scorching streaks of play.
Prior to his shortened game against Indiana, Hamler piled up 18 receptions with 284 yards and three touchdowns in his previous three contests.
To slow him down, Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley said Wade will need to leave the past in its place.
“Playing corner is about the next play. Whether you were good or bad on the last one, he can’t think like that, and I’ll make sure he doesn’t think like that,” Hafley said.
Wade forced two turnovers against Rutgers this past week for Ohio State, tipping a pass to himself for an interception and forcing a fumble following a reception by Rutgers freshman wide receiver Isaiah Washington.
The interception was Wade’s first of the season, a moment for which he said he’s been patiently waiting. He watched redshirt senior cornerback Damon Arnette, junior cornerback Jeff Okudah, senior safety Jordan Fuller and redshirt freshman cornerback Sevyn Banks pick passes off and knew his time would come.
“[Arnette] had his, Jeff had his, Jordan had his. Mine’s gonna come soon,” Wade said. “Sevyn had his. It’s gonna come, and it came [against Rutgers].”
All of Ohio State’s defensive backs will be important in stopping Penn State’s passing attack, which Hafley said includes the best group of receivers the Buckeyes have seen this year.
“[Hamler] is dynamic. He’s fast. He’s quick. He can change direction,” Hafley said. “But the other guys are good too.”
Given his contributions to Penn State, if Hamler is on the field, the matchup between him and Wade could prove impactful.
Hafley is confident in his athlete.
“I think Shaun’s a new player. I think he’s a better player, and I think he’ll be ready this time,” Hafley said.