By Andre Monroe
STATE COLLEGE – The Penn State Nittany Lions move to 4-0 after an uninspiring win, but albeit a win, after defeating Central Michigan. The game saw both sides of the ball hit a wall at certain points, but their ability to put points on the board when it mattered prevailed.
The Nittany Lions got off to yet another great start. After deferring to the second half, they forced a quick three and out after getting pressure on CMU QB Daniel Richardson.
The opening offensive drive was effortless. Sean Clifford connected with Parker Washington on the first play for 27-yards. CMU did a pretty good job stopping the run on the first drive, but they couldn’t stop the passing attack. After a big gain by Brenton Strange to put them in the end-zone, Sean Clifford would connect with his roommate Mitchell Tinsley on the first TD of the game. The opening drive saw Sean Clifford go 3-3; he wouldn’t throw his first incomplete pass until 10:39 to go in the second quarter. Penn State 7, CMU 0.
James Franklin had an interesting answer when asked about Zakee Wheatley’s ability to create turnovers on Thursday.
“We believe in recruiting defensive backs who could play wideout, and we’ve seen that translate.”
Well, Franklin seems to be vindicated so far this season. Many label Zakee Wheatley the “turnover king”; he has an eye for the ball. We were provided an example of this early on when Zakee Wheatley intercepted CMU QB Daniel Richardson on the game’s second drive.
The Nittany Lion offense would take advantage of the favorable field position with a 4-yard Brenton Strange passing TD. Penn State 14, CMU 0.
CMU would recover from a slow start in a big way. After driving it down the field, WR Finn Hogan would make an awkward one-handed catch to give CMU its first score of the game. Penn State had an ensuing drive that was looking up until a couple of consecutive incompletions that led to a turnover on downs. With the ball almost in field goal range, RB Lew Nichols, who led the nation in rushing last season, broke off for a physical 18-yard gain. A few plays later, Joel Wilson, their leading receiver in receptions, would make a great catch on a 14-yard touchdown reception. Penn State 14, CMU 14.
A collective sigh was heard throughout Beaver Stadium, but even louder were the boos after a Penn State punt on the ensuing drive. The offense hit a wall and badly needed a spark. Who knew that spark would come from a special teams player, punter Barney Amor. Amor has been one of Penn State’s best players this season, proving it when he helped shift the momentum by pinning CMU at their one. A quick three and out gave Penn State’s offense favorable field position, which turned into a Kaytron Allen rushing TD on a drive where he single-handedly willed the offense to a score. Penn State 21, CMU 14
The next drive saw Penn State CB Johnny Dixon make a crowd-surging interception on the visitors’ sideline. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz called a blitz that put Johnny Dixon one-on-one with WR Carlos Carriere. Dixon leaped to make a contested interception, giving Penn State a chance to score before the half and get the ball back to start the second half. Penn State’s offense was able to move downfield, but a 56-yard attempt from Jake Pinegar was no good.
An uninspiring start to the second half resulted in another punt for the Penn State offense. However, LB Curtis Jacobs would recover a muffed punt on the punt return to give the offense another opportunity.
Jacobs wore a big shiny “Linebacker U” diamond chain to the post-game presser.
When asked about the chain, Jacobs had this to say.
“I hold it with pride, I talked to some of the greats and all of them are ecstatic about holding the standard… so that’s what I want to do”.
The turnover helped turn the tide. Good field position led to a Brenton Strange 3-yard touchdown reception, but Jake Pinegar’s attempt was blocked. Penn State 27, CMU 14.
Lew Nichols broke off a pair of long runs that eventually led to CMU’s offense standing at Penn State’s five-yard line. A string of incomplete passes and failed touchdown attempts led to fourth down, and just like they’ve done all game, CMU opted to go for it. This attempt would not be successful, leading to a turnover on downs.
Both offenses would trade punts and the quarter would end, Penn State 27 CMU 14.
The quarter would start with QB Sean Clifford sneaking it in for the touchdown. Both teams would go scoreless for the rest of a game that had already been decided. Penn State 33, CMU 14.
After starting 4-0, Penn State will now open up Big 10 conference play for the remainder of the season. Some players and coaches repeated the same language of “sloppy play” in the post-game pressers. They may have been able to win that way against Central Michigan, but Penn State will have to improve in some areas if they want to compete for the Big 10 Championship. They will take on the Northwestern Wildcats next in a match set for a 3:30 PM kickoff.
Andre Monroe covers Penn State Football for Insider Institute. Follow him on Twitter @amonroe_ and Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.