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Forcing turnovers, run game key for Nittany Lions

Forcing turnovers and coming through with explosive plays in the run game.

Penn State’s performance on the road in a hostile Jordan-Hare Stadium last Saturday was like looking through a window into the past to the mid-to-late 90s, mid-2000s and most recently 2016-19.

When Penn State (3-0) has been at its best, those two components of its game have been the key . After a combined 11-11 record between the 2020 and 2021 seasons, it was good to see the Nittany Lions be able to get back to the fan’s favorite winning recipe.

An obvious change for this team this season has been the run game. Penn State’s freshmen running backs in Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen have been literal game-changers and, in my opinion, season-changers for the Nittany Lions. Both of these youngsters are big and fast, and Singleton possesses a gear that has allowed him to rip off numerous big gains already in his young career.

Singleton’s 334 rushing yards are Penn State’s most in the first three games in a season since Larry Johnson’s 362 in 2002 and with two runs of 54 and 53 yards against Auburn, he now has five runs of 40-plus yards and three over 50 yards. Singleton leads the country in 40-plus yard runs this season.

Perhaps, Singleton’s most impressive statistic is his yards per carry – averaging 11.1 yards per tote – which leads the nation by more than 1.84 yards per carry.

As noted, Allen has been exceptional, as well, as he matched Singleton with two rushing touchdowns against the Tigers last week and has rushed for 106 yards on the season at almost five yards per carry. Simply put, these two freshman have totally transformed the Penn State rushing attack and the proof is in the numbers. Last season, the Nittany Lions ranked 118th in the country in rushing offense, averaging 107.8 yards per game on the ground. This season, Penn State is averaging 192.3 yards rushing yards per game.

Central Michigan comes to Beaver Stadium this week (Noon ET, BTN) as the Nittany Lions will face off with their second Mid-American Conference opponent of the season. The Chippewas have had a bit of a rough go so far this season, going 1-2 with losses to Oklahoma State and South Alabama. Central Michigan was able to come away with a win last week, defeating FCS opponent Bucknell from the Patriot League, 41-0. The Chippewas gained 529 total yards in the victory, including 287 on the ground, with Lew Nichols leading the way with 166 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. Quarterback Daniel Richardson threw for 198 yards and two scores.

Central Michigan was good in the run game last week, but the strength of this ball club is its passing attack. The Chippewas average 311 yards per game through the air, and in Week One Richardson threw for 424 yards and four touchdowns, helping them put up 44 points against the No. 9 ranked Cowboys, so that is a facet of the Central Michigan offense that certainly cannot be overlooked.

However, the Chippewas defense has struggled as they have been giving up an average of 402.3 yards per game and 32 points per game. Penn State is coming off one of its more complete offensive performances in a long time last week where it came through with 477 total yards of offense and scored 41 points. On top of that, the Nittany Lions defense is starting to find their stride as they forced four turnovers, had six sacks and held a strong Auburn rushing attack to just 119 yards at 3.3 yards per carry.

The match-up to watch in this one will be Richardson and the passing attack vs. the Penn State defense. As I have noted many times this season, the Nittany Lions secondary is one of their team strengths and if Penn State can generate the same pass rush it was able to execute last week against Auburn, more turnovers will likely be forced. I think the Penn State offense has the clear advantage over the Central Michigan defense in this game based off the Nittany Lions team speed on that side of the ball.

My pick is Penn State 42, Central Michigan 17.