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No. 14 Penn State Steamrolls Central Michigan 33-14

No. 14 Penn State (4-0, Big Ten 1-0) overcame a slow start to steamroll Central Michigan (1-3) 33-14 at Beaver Stadium Saturday.

A week after the Nittany Lions’ dominant defensive performance against Auburn, Manny Diaz’s squad again changed the game, generating chaos plays. On the shoulders of running back Kaytron Allen’s 111 yards and Sean Clifford’s 65% completion percentage, Penn State’s offense took advantage of the defense’s two interceptions and two fumble recoveries, putting the game out of reach.

Although the Nittany Lions started off slow, second-half adjustments and opportunistic scoring helped the team improve to 4-0 on the year.

How It Happened

A quick Central Michigan three-and-out set up an efficient opening drive for the Nittany Lions. Quarterback Sean Clifford went 3-of-3 for 47 yards, eventually finding Mitchell Tinsley for the game’s first touchdown.

Manny Diaz’s defense kept the pressure high against Central Michigan’s second drive. A blitzing Ji’Ayir Brown forced a quick throw, which Nittany Lion “Takeaway King” Zakee Wheatley intercepted. The turnover ushered the offense back onto the field for a one-minute scoring drive that saw Clifford throw his 69th career touchdown – this time to Brenton Strange. Penn State led 14-0 with six and a half minutes remaining in the first quarter.

The two teams each took a punt on the following two drives. Barney Amor’s punt came from inside Penn State’s end zone, giving Central Michigan helpful field position. A fourth down conversion kept the Chippewas’ drive alive long enough for them to find their first score of the day, on a one handed catch by Finn Hogan. It was 14-7 with 12 and a half minutes left in the half.

On the next drive, Clifford faced an overwhelming blitz, but still found Strange on a veteran read. Still, two consecutive third and fourth-down drops from Trey Wallace and Tinsley ended the possession. Central Michigan responded with a relatively unimpeded drive that ended in another Daniel Richardson touchdown pass. The game was tied at 14.

Clifford made a couple of bad reads in a row and Penn State’s punt team came back out. Amor’s ensuing punt took a perfect bounce, turning a seemingly inevitable touchback into a spot at the 3-yard line. Backed up against the goal line, Central Michigan struggled to make up the ground and were forced to punt. Freshman running back Kaytron Allen dominated the Nittany Lions’ next possession, grabbing 34 yards and his third touchdown of the year, on a smart cut back towards the center of the field. Penn State led 21-14 with two minutes left in the half.

The Chippewas tried to answer, but another interception stopped them in their tracks. This time, cornerback Johnny Dixon came down with a 50-50 ball down the Central Michigan sideline. Again, Ji’Ayir Brown was the catalyst, with his blitz bringing palpable pressure and another quarterback hit. The Nittany Lions’ offense got the ball back with just over a minute in the first half. Ultimately, Penn State couldn’t take advantage, settling for a 56-yard field goal miss by Sander Sahaydak, exiting the half with a 21-14 advantage.

Though Penn State’s offense was torpedoed by a holding call, it caught a big break when Central Michigan muffed the punt. Receiver Malick Meiga recovered the fumble at the Chippewas’ 7-yard line. Two plays later and Clifford found Strange in the end zone for the second time in the game. A blocked PAT put the score at 27-14 for the Nittany Lions.

Central Michigan led a hefty 10-play drive into the red zone, but its pilgrimage to the end zone was halted by two offensive penalties. On a third down from the 30-yard line, the Chippewas threw a 25-yard pass to set up a fourth down from the 5-yard line. Chop Robinson’s pressure forced a desperate throw out the back of the end zone, returning possession back to the Nittany Lions.

Nick Singleton opened up Penn State’s drive with a 21-yard run, but a holding penalty stalled momentum shortly after, leading to another punt from Amor placing Central Michigan inside its own 10-yard line. The Chippewas responded with another three-and-out.

A 31-yard run from Allen popped open the Nittany Lions’ offense, as the game reached the third quarter’s finish. Clifford hit Wallace for a quick pass down to the goal line, before a quarterback sneak brought the score to 33-14. Penn State’s subsequent two-point conversion failed.

Again, penalties killed the Chippewas’ forward progress. Despite pillaging the Nittany Lions’ soft coverage, self-inflicted wounds set up a 1st-and-30. Cornerback Kalen King stripped his man’s catch and recovered the ball to return possession to Penn State, ushering in freshman Drew Allar’s first snaps of the game with just over nine minutes remaining.

Penn State’s offense slowly made its way through Central Michigan’s half, but was eventually stopped on third down. When the Chippewas took another penalty on a Nittany Lion field goal attempt, the drive was extended, allowing Allar another chance to attack the end zone. A third down sack brought the field goal unit back onto the field – this time for a 38-yard miss from Jake Pinegar.

Five-star freshman Dani Dennis-Sutton picked up his second sack of the season, injuring Central Michigan’s Richardson in the process. Just a couple plays later, Dennis-Sutton picked up his second sack of the game. The defense’s third interception of the day was wiped away by an illegal substitution penalty and the Chippewas failed to capitalize on the break, finishing the second half scoreless. Allar kneeled the game out.

Takeaways

  • Manny Diaz’s defense was on fire again. Though they were tested in the first half, the Nittany Lions still forced two turnovers in the half. Coming back from halftime, the team made adjustments, forced mistakes, and held the Chippewas to a scoreless second half. Two more turnovers in the second half just punctuated the unit’s big day.
  • Quarterback Sean Clifford started the game 8-for-8, but ended the first half 7-for-17. There were a handful of drops and misses from his receivers, but there were also his fair share of bad reads. The offense noticeably sputtered after the passing game’s struggles began. Central Michigan’s coverage was nothing to ignore, as Clifford’s backup Drew Allar also struggled – only recording 20 yards and a sack on 2-for-5 passing. Still, Penn State will need more from its starting signal caller as the schedule gets more intense.
  • Redshirt freshman Zakee Wheatley was named Penn State’s “Takeaway King” in preseason camp. That moniker has rang true through the Nittany Lions’ first four games. With his first quarter pick, Wheatley’s season totals rose to two interceptions and a forced fumble. Fellow defensive back Joey Porter Jr. had a similarly productive day. Porter added another five tackles and several big pass breakups to his marks on the year. In the third quarter, Porter dropped an interception that almost certainly would have been taken for six. With his current production, projections placing Porter in the first round of next year’s NFL Draft don’t seem too crazy.
  • In the wake of Nick Singleton’s star-making season so far, it’s easy to forget how strong of an option fellow freshman back Kaytron Allen is. Against Central Michigan, Allen racked up 111 yards and his third touchdown of the year. Saturday’s performance served as a reminder that the Nittany Lions’ running back room is deep and Allen is a truly formidable threat to opposing defenses.
  • Coming into Saturday’s contest, James Franklin said running back Keyvone Lee‘s availability was uncertain after suffering an injury against Auburn. Lee missed the initial running back warmups, but was later seen on the field in uniform. Despite his equipped appearance, Lee did not log a single snap against Central Michigan. With freshman Allen’s big game, Lee’s health may further jeopardize his standing on the depth chart.

What’s Next

Penn State stays home next week, hosting Big Ten foe Northwestern at Beaver Stadium on Saturday. The game is set for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff and will be broadcast on either ABC or ESPN.

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About the Author

Sam Fremin

Sam is a senior from Ashburn, Virginia, majoring in journalism and political science & minoring in German and creative writing. He is a Dallas Cowboys fan who relishes the misery of Eagles fans. All hate messages can be sent to [email protected] or @SamFremin on Twitter.

He may or may not read every single comment he gets.

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