Penn State football returns home for battle against Central Michigan
After coming away with a 41-12 victory in Jordan-Hare stadium a week ago, No. 14 Penn State returns home to face an unfamiliar foe in Central Michigan.
The Nittany Lions have gotten off to a great start winning their first three games while the Chippewas are 1-2.
Despite its slow start to the year, Central Michigan has one of the most dynamic runners in college football, as Lew Nichols III led the nation in rushing yards last year.
Nichols tallied 1,848 rushing yards on 341 carries while finishing with 212 rushing yards and 42 rushing attempts, more than the second-place rusher.
Nichols was also an option out of the backfield, recording 338 yards on 40 catches as he posted 2,186 yards for 18 total touchdowns.
Week 4 marks the second straight week Penn State has faced a run-heavy offense, but Tank Bigsby and Nichols are different players.
“I think you’re talking about a really productive back,” James Franklin said. “[They have] different styles in that Tank was extremely quick and explosive. This kid’s very well rounded, very productive, but probably a different style.”
However, Nichols has struggled out of the gate in 2022, tallying 258 rushing yards, 166 of which came against Bucknell, an 0-3 FCS team.
While he’s struggled to get going this year, he’s still a player the Penn State defense has to game plan against.
The Nittany Lions defense shut down Bigsby and the Tigers' rushing attack last week, and they will have to do the same on Saturday.
“Every game plan starts with [being able] to stop the run,” Nick Tarburton said. “You don’t stop the run, you’re probably not going to win the game.”
With the running game struggling early, the Chippewas have leaned on an improved passing attack led by Daniel Richardson.
Last season Richardson posted 2,633 passing yards, and through three games, he has 889 passing yards, ranking No. 21 in the country.
In the season opener against Oklahoma State, Richardson threw for 424 yards and four touchdowns. Although the offense has been clicking for Central Michigan, it has struggled mightily on defense.
The Chippewas are allowing 32 points per game so far this season, good for No. 101 in the country out of 131 FBS teams.
Despite Richardson finishing with gaudy numbers in the season opener, Central Michigan surrendered 58 points and followed that up by allowing South Alabama to put 38 points on the board.
The contest against the blue and white seems like a recipe for disaster as it has posted point totals of 35, 46 and 41.
A big reason for Penn State’s success on offense to begin the campaign has been improved play on the ground and on the offensive line.
In their 41-12 win at Auburn, the Nittany Lions ran for 245 yards and allowed zero sacks.
“To beat them on the road and handle crowd noise, which can be challenging for an offensive line,” Franklin said. “I do think it was a step in the right direction.”
All year Franklin has employed a strategy of not “pounding the table” about his offensive line, fearing that if he mentions “something positive, something won't go well.”
In the first three games of the year, the strategy has paid off, and Penn State’s seven offensive linemen are much improved as offensive tackle Bryce Effner and guard Hunter Nourzad have gotten starter reps despite not starting in a contest in 2022.
“To have an amazing run game is awesome,” Effner said Wednesday. “We've really worked at it, and I think it's just finally clicking, so it's just amazing to see.”
On the ground, the blue and white have gotten great contributions from its two true freshmen, Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen.
The victory over Auburn marked the first time since 2019 that a true freshman had consecutive games reaching the century, marking in rushing yards as Singleton posted 179 and 124 in back-to-back weeks.
Singleton has gotten off to a blazing start in his collegiate career, finding the endzone four times and breaking off several explosive runs.
Allen has also impressed this year as he tallied his first two career touchdowns in the win over Auburn while posting 52 yards on nine carries.
Penn State was the most-sacked team in the conference last year due to the inability to run the ball, and the play calls were focused around quarterback Sean Clifford.
With Singleton and Allen sparking the Nittany Lions’ rushing attack, Clifford has played with newfound confidence and breathing room.
“It helps him get a load off his shoulders,” Ford said. “He’s got a lot of pressure on him, so he does what he has to do and focuses on what he has to do. We handle our business, he handles his.”
Alex Rocco is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.