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Penn State plods past Central Michigan: Highs and Lows

Nate Bauer09/24/22
Article written by:On3 imageNate Bauer


Penn State struggled to find its stride offensively Saturday against Central Michigan. (Daniel Althouse/BWI)

Penn State improved to 4-0 on the 2022 season with a 33-14 win over Central Michigan on Saturday afternoon. And, though the Nittany Lions delivered a fast 14-0 start, the Chippewas made the hosts work the rest of the afternoon.

What stood out about the game?

Here is a look at the highs and lows from Penn State’s last win of the nonconference portion of the schedule:

Penn State 33 – Central Michigan 14: Highs and Lows

PLAYER OF THE GAME Kaytron Allen’s 111 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries were efficient and offered yet another look at the complement Penn State has at running back. On a day of inconsistency in nearly every facet of the game for Penn State, though, no Nittany Lion was sharper or more effective than punter Barney Amor. His four attempts averaged 44.5 yards. More importantly, three were downed inside the 20 (including the 3, the 6, and one that was muffed for a fumble), warranting an honorable mention nod here.

PLAY OF THE GAME Hoping to finally put Central Michigan to bed in a game that was probably closer than Penn State would have liked, Kalen King delivered. After two CMU holding penalties, a first-and-30 play in Penn State territory was completed to Carlos Carriere for 16 yards, but King’s strip produced a fumble and, after a few bounces, possession for the Nittany Lions. The play ended any last threat from the Chippewas and allowed Drew Allar’s entrance into the game. 

Top Offensive Plays

BEST PASS Drew Allar missed badly on his first pass attempt of the day, a second-and-9 directed toward KeAndre Lambert-Smith. The same was not true of his second. Threading the needle on third-and-9 midway early in the fourth quarter, Allar connected with Liam Clifford for a first down to keep his first possession alive. 

BEST RUN Lew Nichols didn’t quite reach the end zone, but his 18-yard carry to open the second quarter showed why his preseason accolades were warranted. Patient, decisive, quick, and powerful all in the same run, Nichols gave the Chippewas their best field position to that point in the game, into the red zone, with the carry. 

BEST CATCH Finn Hogan’s 3-yard touchdown reception might not show up as a huge play in the final box score, but the Chippewas’ receiver made as impressive of a play as there was in the game to get it done. With quarterback Daniel Richardson tossing up the fourth-and-goal floater behind Hogan, the receiver did a full spin to find and pull in the reception, steadied himself, then trotted into the end zone untouched to make it a 14-7 game. Carlos Carriere’s one-handed grab during Central Michigan’s two-minute drill at the end of the first half was also a thing of beauty. CMU tight end Joel Wilson also made a great one-handed catch late in the third quarter.

WORST DROP Jalen McGaughy was among James Franklin’s players to watch on Central Michigan’s offense coming into the game. The Chippewas’ receiver couldn’t come through when they needed him most, though. Running free thanks to a stumbling Penn State defender, McGaughy ran under a long downfield floater but couldn’t reel in the pass. Missing an opportunity at finding the fringe scoring zone, Central Michigan would subsequently punt.

Penn State defensive standouts

BEST SACK Central Michigan’s Dakota Cochran secured the first sack of the game for either team late in the fourth quarter, wrapping up Drew Allar on a third-and-long for a 6-yard loss. Dani Dennis-Sutton followed in clean-up duty, bringing down Daniel Richardson with 3:26 to play. He then did it again later in the same possession.

BEST INTERCEPTION Franklin has said repeatedly that, it might sound strange, but the ball likes Zakee Wheatley. He’s right, it does sound strange. He’s also right that, well, it’s true. Taking advantage of a blindside hit from Ji’Ayir Brown, the Nittany Lions’ true freshman happened to be in the right position to make the easy interception midway through the first quarter. Johnny Dixon’s pick has to get a nod here, too, both for its difficulty and importance in stunting Central Michigan’s two-minute drill in the second quarter.

BEST EFFORT Curtis Jacobs wasn’t the first Nittany Lion to land on top of Central Michigan’s muffed punt return early in the second half, but he was the last. Cleaning up Jordyn Williams’ drop, the play delivered red zone field position for the Nittany Lions. 

Odds and ends

BEST KICK Barney Amor is making the off-season conversation about finding Jordan Stout’s replacement seem like a distant memory. Stagnant offensively late in the first half, Amor’s 48-yard beautiful punt bounced once at the 3-yard line and took a right turn to the sideline to pin the Chippewas deep. 

BEST RETURN Needing a boost of mojo late in the first half, locked in a 14-14 game, Parker Washington’s 14-yard, field-crossing punt return to the Central Michigan 34-yard line proved to be a spark. 

BEST DECISION Finding Brenton Strange in the passing game hasn’t been limited to the Central Michigan game, but his emergence the past few weeks does change the complexion of Penn State’s offensive possibilities moving forward. He was again a frequent target of Clifford on Saturday, cashing in with a wide-open touchdown on a rollout midway through the first quarter, then again for a score to open the second half. 

WORST DECISION Penn State’s improvement on place kicking, as a whole including interior blocking and Jake Pinegar’s accuracy, hasn’t come to fruition. That point became especially clear when the Nittany Lions’ allowed a second-half PAT to be blocked easily, followed by a missed 38-yard chip shot from Pinegar late in the fourth quarter.

MOST TELLING MOMENT Not that Jim McElwain had much to decide, but trailing Penn State 14-0 early in the second quarter, the CMU head coach went aggressive. Going for a fourth-and-goal at the 3, the opportunity and decision paid dividends with the short Hogan touchdown reception. In a game that looked like it might get out of hand early, the Chippewas kept coming.