Hoosier heading home

UNIVERSITY PARK — After a pair of disappointing home losses, Penn State now goes on the road to some unfamiliar territory.

All except for Mac Hippenhammer, who returns to his home state of Indiana.

He is expecting roughly 30 of his family members to make the three-hour trip from his hometown of Fort Wayne to the game in Bloomington at a school that hardly recruited him while attending high school.

“I’m excited to go back home. I’ve been waiting for this one, so it’ll be good for me,” Hippenhammer said. “I have a lot of family coming. … What surprises me, though, is Indiana didn’t really recruit me heavy until late and I think I was committed when they started really recruiting me. It surprised me because they didn’t recruit me heavy and I thought they would being from Indiana and stuff like that.”

Hippenhammer has moved on and says his team is attempting to right the ship after losses to Ohio State and Michigan State on their home turf.

It starts by beating a Hoosier defense that finds itself in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten in terms of total yards allowed (385.3 a game) and passing defense (227.6).

“Honestly, I think it’s just taking one game at a time because you can’t get too ahead of yourself. We can’t really look back on the past week because it’s over now so you can’t really let that affect your game,” Hippenhammer said. “It’s all about taking it one game at a time, one day at a time, one meeting at a time. … (We) just have to really focus on the task at hand. You can’t get too ahead of yourself and lose focus on what happened last week.”

The biggest adjustment may have to come from Hippenhammer and his fellow receivers. The group has left too many yards on the field with dropped passes and things have looked out of sync between them and quarterback Trace McSorley — mostly because of youthful inexperience.

Coach James Franklin spoke about that in a Q&A session earlier this week.

“Running routes in high school, you’re very rarely going against another Division I athlete,” he said. “So now, not only do you have to know all the nuances in terms of how the routes get adjusted based on certain coverages or pressures or blitzes or those types of things. That timing and that chemistry with Trace, I think that’s what you’ve seen a few times this year where you see Trace go to throw the ball and pulls back because he’s expecting a guy to run a route differently than the way it was run.”

Hippenhammer refuses to lose faith in himself or his team in turning things around for the better. He says a big reason he believes in himself on the gridiron is because of the work he puts in on the diamond.

In an era where most athletes focus on their craft in just one sport, Hippenhammer has the rare chance to star for two teams at Penn State.

“Growing up, I was playing both sports. My summers were filled with baseball and football, and I never had much of a social life, he said. “I’m not going to not play baseball after playing summer ball all through high school. … I felt like I wanted to play both as long as I can so yeah, I plan on still playing. Obviously, it’s tough, but the most important thing was staying on top of my academics and stuff like that. I felt like I handled it very well.”

He’s not quite like Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, who finds himself in the Heisman discussions while having a multi-million dollar contract with the Oakland A’s, but Hippenhammer is applying the skills from one sport and bringing them to another.

“I think both cross over with each other. I think baseball complements my football game and there are things I can carry over from football into baseball. I think both help me stay athletically balanced,” he said. “Ball tracking and stuff like that and being able to run and flex your hips I think carry over (from baseball).”

It may all start coming together for him this weekend when he returns home to play in front of his loved ones. So far, he only has one touchdown, which came in the second week of the season against Pittsburgh. It wouldn’t be too unpleasant if that number increased when he returns home.