Preview: Central Michigan prepared for hostile environment against Penn State

Head Coach Jim McElwain looks on at the video board during a review against FIU, Saturday, Sept. 25.

In its last two games, Central Michigan football (1-2) had to balance the expectations of being the favorite with the approach of not overlooking its opponent.

However, in Saturday’s game, Penn State (3-0) opens as 28-point favorites.

Facing a top-15 ranked opponent in one of the toughest environments in all of college football, head coach Jim McElwain is well aware of what a trip to Beaver Stadium means.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” McElwain said. “And yet, I know it’s a great opportunity when you get a chance to play in an environment like this. I can honestly say, talking with our offensive line coach William Vlachos, when we went in there and played (with) Alabama, it was the loudest crowd we’ve ever been associated with and the loudest crowd I’ve ever heard.”

In the midst of festivities CMU defensive backs coach and former Nittany Lion Michael Zordich will be honored, along with the rest of Penn State’s 1982 national championship team.

“I’m just really excited Michael (Zordich) can be there,” McElwain said. “There’s nothing like winning a national championship. Honoring those guys, and his wife as well. Going back, she was a cheerleader there at Penn State. For them, I think this is special."

Meet the opponent

Penn State’s fearsome home crowd is well documented, but this year's iteration of the team may be as equally feared. The Lions entered the 2022 season unranked following a 7-6 campaign in 2021. 

Penn State kicked off its season with a nail-biter against Purdue, edging out the Boilermakers 35-31, thanks to an impressive final drive from quarterback Sean Clifford. 

Over its next two games, however, Penn State dominated its competition, starting with a week two win over fellow Mid-American Conference program Ohio by a margin of 36 points.

The following week Penn State overwhlemed Auburn 41-12 thanks to a runaway second half, during which it scored three touchdowns on the ground. 

Head coach James Franklin’s offensive unit has scored over 40 points a game while averaging 485 yards of offense this season. Clifford has been reliable and has largely avoided big mistakes, but the production in its backfield is what makes the offense hum.

Penn State has averaged 192.3 rushing yards per game at 5.5 yards per attempt. Additionally, its offense has scored on the ground nine times this season

Big question: Can CMU’s defense build on its performance from a week ago?

It would be rather far-fetched to suggest that CMU’s defense could replicate its performance a week ago when it shut out Bucknell’s offense. However, if it can continue its upward trajectory, then it might stand a chance to slow down Penn State’s aerial attack.

While the unit was only credited with three sacks from last week, it seemed like the Chippewas lived in Bucknell’s backfield. Redshirt freshman defensive end Michael Heldman had his best game of the season and looks to continue improvements to his game this week, albeit against stiffer competition. 

Sophomore cornerback Donte Kent is expected to return to the lineup after a one-game absence. The same can be said for sophomore safety Trey Jones, who has been a vocal leader on this team dating back to spring practices.

Key to victory: Limiting Kevin Singleton’s impact

The Chippewas must contain Penn State's rushing attack, namely, true freshman running back Kevin Singleton has firmly entrenched himself as the top running back, and maybe the top offensive weapon overall for the Lions.

Singleton only managed 31 rushing yards in week one but has racked up 310 yards on just 20 attempts since. Additionally, he leads the team with 10 rushes in each of the last three games.

“Yeah, that guy is special,” McElwain said. “He’s something else. I mean to see a guy run away from (defenders like he did) last week, I know what kind of speed and power he’s got. It’s pretty impressive.”

Central Michigan (1-2) vs Bucknell (3-0)

All-time series: 1-0 Penn State

Time: 12:00 p.m. ET

Date: Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022

Stadium: Beaver Stadium

Location: University Park, Pennsylvania

Odds: Penn State -28

Over/Under: 63

TV: Big Ten Network

Radio: 98.5 WUPS (Adam Jaksa, Brock Guiterrez)