Rapid Reaction: Penn State wears down Central Michigan after second-quarter scare
Greeted as conquering heroes by 105,000+ at Beaver Stadium, Penn State lived up to all expectations through 1 quarter on a crisp Saturday afternoon in State College.
A few minutes into the second quarter, though, it was clear Nittany Lions fans were going to have to ride the emotional roller coaster for a while longer. Not all the worries and hiccups of the past 2 years have gone away. Not by a long shot, especially if said long shot thrown by Sean Clifford.
Such is life for fans of a team with tons of extremely young, inexperienced players; a new high-risk, high-reward defensive philosophy; and an improving but still plenty shaky offensive line.
The Lions survived their second MACtion of the season, holding off Central Michigan of the Mid-American Conference 33-14 thanks to key turnovers, 2 penalties that took touchdowns off the board for the Chippewas, and Barney Amor’s clutch punting.
Between Penn State’s 2nd touchdown less than 9 minutes into the game and an Amor punt muffed by the Chips to give the Lions a 1st-and-goal shortly after halftime, things got mighty tense.
This one wasn’t nearly as easy as the 46-10 victory over Ohio, the MAC opponent for Penn State’s home opener 2 weeks ago.
Central Michigan made new PSU defensive coordinator Manny Diaz pay to sending more than half the defense at quarterback Daniel Richardson, and it also denied the Lions room to get their freshman running backs going.
Once acclimated to Diaz’s blitz-happy scheme, CMU put together back-to-back TD drives to tie the game at 14-14. With Penn State recording no sacks in the first half, Richardson led drives totaling 20 plays and 112 yards, capping each with a scoring pass.
On defense, CMU held Penn State to 52 rushing yards in the first half, and slowed Clifford down dramatically after he went 8-for-8 with 2 TDs to start the game. After the hot start, Clifford connected on just 4 of his next 12 throws and was up-and-down the rest of the way.
Kaytron Allen had runs of 8, 11 and 14 yards on a late-second quarter drive that sent the Lions to the break with a 21-14 lead. Allen found some more room after halftime and led PSU with 111 yards on 13 carries as the game went down the stretch in the fourth quarter. Nick Singleton, star of the previous 2 games, was held to 42 yards on his first 12 carries of the game.
“We have to be more consistent in everything we do,” James Franklin told former PSU QB Matt McGloin in a television halftime interview. “It’s not all going to be big plays, it’s not all going to be turnovers. We have to be able to grind it out, too.”
It wasn’t until Amor punted a knuckle ball high into the Beaver Stadium breeze that led to the muff — recovered by Curtis Jacobs — that Penn State fans could exhale. The worst of the roller coaster ride was over. Penn State converted the chance to a TD to go up 27-14, and salted the game away with 2 forced turnovers in the second half to match its 2 in the first half. The Lions didn’t turn the ball over and still have coughed it up only once all season.
Amor also pinned CMU at or inside the 5-yard line on 2 other occasions.
Drew Allar, the Lions’ 5-star freshman QB, entered in the fourth quarter with the team up 33-14. He started 2-of-5 for 20 yards.
The defense finally got a couple sacks in the second half, but far short of the 6 it made against Auburn in last week’s 41-12 thumping of the Tigers. CMU played smart and disciplined football under former Florida coach Jim McElwain.
In the end, Penn State did indeed have more and better talent, but CMU made the Lions prove it.
Up next: Northwestern
Penn State gets back to league play in earnest next Saturday, looking to take down its second B1G West foe of the season when Northwestern visits Beaver Stadium for a 3:30 kickoff.
Like the Lions, the Wildcats opened their season with a league game and thus were scheduled to entertain a MAC team today. With 2 losses following an opening win against Nebraska in Ireland, Northwestern will be trying to regain some momentum at 7:30 ET tonight against the Miami RedHawks.
The Wildcats have some statistical stars. Running back Evan Hull entered the weekend leading the nation in yards from scrimmage and all-purpose yards. He was averaging 100+ yards both rushing and receiving, which is mighty impressive even for a mere 3-game stretch. QB Ryan Hilinski was passing for better than 320 yards per game.
Still, 17th-year head coach Pat Fitzgerald doesn’t have the talent to match up with Penn State, particularly on defense, which is usually the program’s calling card. The Lions have a 97% chance of winning, according the ESPN’s Matchup Predictor. That means the Wildcats have less of a chance of pulling the upset than the Chippewas supposedly had.
Yes, the teams still will have to play the game, but Penn State should be 5-0 heading into its bye week, which precedes a trip to No. 4 Michigan. That’s when the Lions’ season and the B1G East race will really heat up. Mark your calendar for Oct. 15.