After an eye-opening performance on the road, the big question for No. 14 Penn State is how much of an emotional letdown there may be.
The Nittany Lions (3-0, 1-0 Big Ten) turned in one of the most impressive performances of the young season last week with a 41-12 road win at SEC foe Auburn, but now must refocus for a game against a Group of Five opponent when Central Michigan visits University Park, Pa., for a noon kickoff on Saturday.
Of all the things that stood out for Penn State in the win at Auburn, maybe the most noticeable was the way the Nittany Lions ran the ball.
Penn State struggled with its offensive line play and running game last year, but completely controlled Auburn’s defensive line, rushing for 245 yards on 6.3 per carry.
True freshman Nicholas Singleton was the biggest beneficiary of Penn State’s improved line play, rushing for 124 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.
Freshman Kaytron Allen, sophomore Keyvone Lee and junior Devyn Ford have flanked Singleton in what is a deep group of running backs for Penn State.
“We’re getting better up front and at tight end,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said after the game. “We’re doing some things speed-wise to help them. The ability to be more balanced and take pressure off the passing game, I think it’s been really important for us. We also have some dynamic backs that help create some explosive plays.”
Penn State’s offense has averaged more than 40 points a game to start the season.
Singleton has already rushed for 334 yards and four touchdowns, while quarterback Sean Clifford has completed nearly 64 percent of his passes (53 of 83) for 673 yards, five touchdowns and one interception.
After allowing 31 points in a season-opening win at Purdue, Penn State’s defense has allowed 22 points combined in the last two games.
The Nittany Lions now turn their attention to what will be their final nonconference game of the season before returning to Big Ten play.
Central Michigan comes in at 1-2 following a 41-0 home win over FCS opponent Bucknell on Saturday.
The Chippewas started the season with a 58-44 road loss at Oklahoma State before losing at home to South Alabama, 38-24.
As is the case with Penn State, this will be Central Michigan’s last nonconference game before it gets into Mid-American Conference action.
Offensively, Central Michigan can be potent behind running back Lew Nichols, who rushed for 1,848 yards last year and has 258 yards and five touchdowns so far in 2022.
Quarterback Daniel Richardson is a dual-threat signal caller who so far this season is 73-of-127 passing for 889 yards, seven touchdowns and two picks.
“When you get it, enjoy it, reflect on it,” Central Michigan head coach Jim McElwain said after his team beat Bucknell. “Make sure you really know what that feeling is and hopefully it becomes contagious moving forward.”
This is only the second meeting between the Nittany Lions and Chippewas all-time. Penn State won the only other meeting in 2005 by a score of 40-3.