On Saturday afternoon, the Penn State Nittany Lions hosted the Central Michigan Chippewas at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania. The Nittany Lions bested the Chippewas, 33-14. I have several thoughts, which are set forth “randomly” below:
1. This should have been fully expected.
2. The reaction to it should have been as well, but I find the whole situation very odd.
3. Penn State spent the first three weeks of the season in intensely meaningful competition. They opened week 1 of the college football season in prime time, away, against a Purdue team that has upset the best teams in the sport time and again since I’ve been a fan.
4. In fact, they had to come back from an ugly pick-six with a game winning drive by running an incredibly efficient two-minute drill.
5. Week 2 was the home opener, which featured significant time from multiple true freshmen contributors that had never once played before a home crowd in Beaver Stadium.
6. In week 3, Penn State traveled south to play Auburn in the CBS SEC game of the week in the 3:30 p.m. slot. All reports were that practice was intense as the Nittany Lions sought to make a meaningful impression on a national stage.
7. Three weeks, three games – two Power 5 opponents on the road in marquee spots, plus the home opener before a crowd of 107,000.
8. And then…Central Michigan.
9. Penn State beat Central Michigan essentially by 3 scores (point after and conversion tries notwithstanding). A true freshman rushed for 111 yards on 13 carries, and the senior quarterback threw for 3 scores and ran for another. The Nittany Lions didn’t turn the ball over, took the ball away from the Chippewas on four separate occasions, and the true freshman backup quarterback got nearly 10 minutes of game time.
10. These are all good things, and things we would have begged for during the 2020 and 2021 seasons. But this one was still, somehow, disappointing. Even James Franklin seemed to think so in his post-game press availability.
11. We all should’ve been primed for a minor letdown here, though. Those first three games, recounted above, were big, emotional swings. This was the hangover.
12. I’m sure I’ve said this before – James Franklin can offer all the “process-oriented” quotes that he wants, and I’m sure he means it and thinks it’s important to say it aloud. But it’s impractical to believe that the vast majority of people, including 18-23 year old athletes, can manage their emotions effectively after weeks of highs.
13. The first few drives didn’t help that, which is strange, since they were so effective.
14. The offense on the first two series was on fire and the defense forced a 3-and-out on the first drive and an interception on the second.
15. By the time the first quarter was halfway over, Penn State was up 14-0 and looked like it was cruising to an overwhelming victory. This felt like it was easy, and I’m sure everyone on the sideline relaxed a bit.
16. But Central Michigan is mostly disciplined and well coached, which isn’t surprising – Jim McElwain is a good coach that was trained by the greatest of coaches and has seen some level of success at each of his three stops as a head coach.
17. They did what all good, but ultimately outmanned, teams do – they battled and managed to make things somewhat difficult.
18. Sean Clifford looked sharp until the midway through Q2, then the drops hit – two in a row that killed a drive and gave CMU the opportunity to tie the game.
19. The drops begat the overthrows, which begat the inconsistency. And suddenly a player that should have completed 100% of his passes quickly loses the momentum of the game.
20. When in doubt, though, go back to the run. Give the offense a running game and good things happen.
21. In this case, it was the Kaytron Allen show. He’s just remarkably consistent.
22. No one will like this comparison, but I’m going to make it anyway – he reminds me a little bit of Evan Royster. Quick feet, subtle moves, great vision to cutback and generate more yardage.
23. Allen doesn’t have the same kind of explosive speed that Nicholas Singleton does, and neither did Evan Royster.
24. He’s a tough runner, though. In his prime, Royster was smooth and nimble. Allen is a tackle breaker. All you have to do is watch the drive where Penn State goes up 21-14 to see it in action.
25. Did Kaytron Allen play lacrosse?
26. Singleton didn’t break a 20-plus yard run and only averaged 3.5 yards per carry. Even so, I thought he was at least reasonably productive. There were a number of situations, for example, on the first drive where he made positive plays and got the necessary yardage to keep the offense ahead of schedule. On two first downs, Singleton got 5 and 6 yards. On a critical 3rd and 3 from the 8 yard line, he got a tough four yards down the sideline for a first down.
27. CMU was disciplined and didn’t give up the big run. But they were outmanned and these two freshman were able to generate a rushing attack that just didn’t exist last year. That has to count for something.
28. Brenton Strange is starting to live up to the praise Franklin has heaped on the tight ends. He’s an asset in the passing game and his blocking has substantially improved.
29. Zakee Wheatley was talked about as the takeaway king during camp, but you never know how that translates to the field. He’s obviously just a guy who instinctively knows where to be and puts himself in a position to get the ball in his hands on defense. That’s a special skill.
30. They say there is a fair amount of luck in generating turnovers. They also say that about rebounds in basketball. But the great players on the glass understand angles and positioning naturally.
31. Zakee Wheatley is Charles Barkley? Or Dennis Rodman?
32. I’d love to see how Penn State fans handle multi-color hair…
33. That Curtis Jacobs sack looked a lot like a vintage Paul Posluszny chase down. We can use more of that.
34. The secondary is as advertised and the defensive line has the chance to be special too. If the linebackers can be effective, the defense will maintain throughout the schedule. But they’re the key to it all.
35. This offense needs a wide receiver who can take the top off of a defense. Parker Washington and Mitchell Tinsley are excellent, but having a KJ Hamler on this squad wouldn’t hurt.
36. All things considered, this team is in good shape. Just keep winning.
37. On to Northwestern.
38. We are…