No. 14 Penn State faces unranked Central Michigan at Beaver Stadium Saturday. The game will be carried by BTN, with kickoff scheduled for noon Eastern.
This is the Lions247 Blitz Game Guide previewing the action. The format features a two-pronged approach.
Mark Harrington tackles things from the Nittany Lions’ perspective. Nirav Dalal lets you know how matters are shaping up on the Chippewas’ side of the ball heading into the matchup.
The Blitz dates back to the old PSUPlaybook. It has been an online staple for more than two decades now.
Who: No. 14 Penn State (3-0) vs. Central Michigan (1-2)
When: Saturday, Noon Eastern
Where: Beaver Stadium
Series: 2nd Meeting (Penn State leads 1-0, Lions won last meeting in 2005, 40-3)
TV: Big Ten Network
Line: Penn State -28 (Caesars Sports Book, as of 9-23-22)
Over/Under: 63.5 (Caesars Sports Book, as of 9-23-22)
MH: James Franklin’s Nittany Lions are back home, which is good news. However, there are questions as to how this team will react coming off the high of the road blowout of Auburn. Penn State can ill afford to have a hangover, and the fact that this is a noon kickoff is not an insignificant concern given the trends of this team in recent years. The Lions have an opportunity to build on their momentum and continue to adjust and fine-tune a spectrum of dimensions across both sides of the ball. This is also a game where, if the team plays up to its potential, it can continue to build experience, confidence and depth — which will pay dividends as its turns the corner back into conference play.
ND: This game is really a throwaway for Central Michigan. The Chippewas don’t expect to win, and unless something really crazy happens, they won’t win. But coach Jim McElwain can use this game to work on his struggling defense. CMU finished the season last year on a high note after beating Washington State in the Sun Bowl. Though they have scored a bunch of points in their losses against Oklahoma State and Southern Alabama, the Chippewas’ defense hasn’t shown signs of improvement. This is yet another game to work on it. Their offense is effective enough to make a run at the MAC West title. But their defense needs to get much better.
MH: Dare it be said that Penn State appears to have a formidable offensive line? Granted, freshman running backs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen have shown they don’t need much space to make things happen. In fact, Singleton leads the nation in yards per carry with 11.13 and is the only freshman in the top ten of the category. However, the offensive line did not allow a sack and blocked for 477 total yards against Auburn. Protecting QBs Sean Clifford and Drew Allar is a big job, yet overcoming last season’s run game struggles is monumental. The key is building on this momentum week-to-week.
Defensively, Penn State is coming off a performance where it contained Auburn’s vaunted run game to 119 yards and bottled up the hyped Tank Bigsby to a mere 39 yards on nine carries. Getting this pressure off the blocks and clogging up the running lanes is a big step in finding consistent success in the Big Ten. This is the sort of game where getting linebackers Curtis Jacobs, Tyler Elsdon and Abdul Carter more experience will help the second level of the defense continue to improve. Incidentally, all three players were in the top ten for PSU tacklers against the Tigers, with the true freshman Carter leading the charge with six solo takedowns, a sack, a tackle for loss and a defended pass.
ND: McElwain, who previously coached at Colorado State and Florida, has a legit offense with experience. RB Lew Nichols led the nation in rushing last year with 1,848 yards and a staggering 8.4 yards per carry. He returns for his sophomore season but his fourth on the team. Nichols is fast, and he is a one-cut and done runner. His size (5-foot-11, 222 pounds) makes him a challenge to tackle in the open space and he loves contact. But this is a very balanced offense with Daniel Richardson at QB. What impresses me is how decisive Richardson is and how fast the ball gets out of his hand. At a listed 5-10, his career as a QB is likely at its last stop, but he’s definitely making the most of it. He really loves to hit tight end Joel Wilson over the middle on check-down routes. In fact, Wilson leads the team in receptions. Richardson’s real strength is how quickly he gets through his progressions and gets the ball to his playmakers. This is a good offense and does a really good job of using the entire field to create space.
Defensively, this team is a mess. Yes, the Chippewas did just squash Bucknell. But they were eaten alive by Oklahoma State and Southern Alabama. Their pass rush is ineffective and they lack speed. They are not a squad that brings a ton of different looks. They do occasionally blitz a linebacker, but it is typically only a single linebacker. The rest of the team is just slow. Slow to react and really slow to close space. Against Oklahoma State, they were dropping into coverage and were not able to converge when the QB took off running. If the front four cannot get pressure, it’s going to be a long, painful Saturday for Central Michigan.
MH: Last week I discussed the importance of Penn State having a balanced attack on offense to keep Auburn’s defense guessing. The Lions delivered on this with 245 yards passing and 232 yards rushing. They should focus on continuing this approach against Central Michigan. As I said previously, the offensive line play is important to help Penn State jump out in this game. Controlling the trenches in order to preserve the pocket and allow things to develop will be instrumental to success. PSU can ill-afford to just stumble through this game.
On the other side, keeping up the pressure is key for the defense. PJ Mustipher set the tone against Auburn, so doing this again to get the defensive front to punish the ball carriers will be a major advantage. I suspect we’ll see a similar approach where the Lions look to force the Chippewas to take to the air in order, which will create opportunities for Joey Porter Jr., Ji’Ayir Brown, and the secondary. It will be important to see aggression early and often.
ND: The key for the Chippewas is to stay balanced and keep attacking. Their offense is best when they are working their ground game and when Richardson can throw off of the RPO. Even if they get behind, they have to keep that ground game with Nichols moving. Their only real shot in this game is to try to match PSU blow-for-blow, because I just don’t see their defense being able to get many stops.
MH: Singleton and Allen could each eclipse 100 yards rushing. Beyond this, Brenton Strange and the TE unit account for a pair of touchdowns as the Lion staff looks to get them even more involved. Finally, the defense forces at least three turnovers in this game.
ND: Last week, an SEC team was able to gain 415 yards in total offense against Penn State. The Chippewas will gain more. This offense is actually pretty good, and if it can stay balanced, I think it can make some plays and move the ball against PSU. Obviously, protecting the QB is key. But I really do respect what this Central Michigan offense can do.
MH: Penn State’s momentum coupled with this sort of home game presents an opportunity to refine a lot of details on both sides of the ball. The Lions cannot stumble through this game and have to buck the trend of noon kickoffs. How they play in the early drives of this contest will indicate what kind of team we’re watching. Overall, Penn State should have this one well in hand.
PREDICTION: Penn State 44, Central Michigan 17 (PSU -27, 61 total)
ND: Give me the over! CMU will serve as a speed bump for the Penn State offense. But I do think the Chippewas will move the ball on offense primarily because they have a smart QB, a really good running game and a couple of receivers with length who can make catches. Penn State wins but the scoreboard operator is gonna be busy.
PREDICTION: Penn State 51, Central Michigan 27 (PSU -24, 78 total)
© 2005-2022 CBS INTERACTIVE ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. CBS Sports is a registered trademark of CBS Broadcasting Inc.