Clifford's 4 TDs lead No. 14 Penn State past Chippewas
(AP Photo/Barry Reeger)
By TRAVIS JOHNSON
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) James Franklin took a few moments to look over the stats after his team's latest win.
Franklin's No. 14 Nittany Lions beat Central Michigan in nearly every column on Saturday, but after Penn State's 33-14 win, Franklin wasn't satisfied.
"In terms of the critical areas, I wouldn't say it felt like this, but we won all of them," Franklin said.
Sean Clifford completed 22 of 34 passes for 217 yards and accounted for four touchdowns for the Nittany Lions, who forced four turnovers to keep the game out of reach.
The Chippewas were still able to drive the ball on the ground and in the air, racking up 363 yards. Mistakes kept them out of the end zone for much of the day, however.
Tight end Brenton Strange caught two touchdowns and wideout Mitchell Tinsley caught one. Clifford and Kaytron Allen added touchdown runs for the Nittany Lions (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) who steadily pulled away.
Penn State players were hoping for something more demonstrative with Northwestern up next and a trip to No. 4 Michigan looming on Oct. 15.
"There's a certain standard in this program," defensive tackle PJ Mustipher said. "I told the guys after the game that we've got to come out hot, we've got to come out better."
Penn State's offense did that.
Clifford marched Penn State down the field and hit Tinsley over the middle from 5 yards out to start the scoring. He got another shot on a short field when Zakee Wheatley picked off Daniel Richardson on Central Michigan's eighth play of the day and returned it to the Chippewa 15.
Clifford needed just three plays from there to find Strange on a 4-yard quick out that made it 14-0.
The Chippewas (1-3) got their offense going in the second quarter. Richardson capped an 11-play drive by hitting Finn Hogan over the middle from two yards out to make it 14-7.
Central Michigan forced a turnover on downs moments later and Richardson found open receivers again. He ended a 9-play, 67-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Joel Wilson that tied it at 14.
Scoreless possessions followed before the Nittany Lions retook the lead with a 14-yard touchdown run from Allen. Penn State led 21-14 at halftime.
The Chippewas turned the ball over again to start the second half.
They forced the Nittany Lions to punt on their first third-quarter possession but return man Jordyn Williams fumbled the ball to Penn State's Curtis Jacobs inside the 10.
Two plays later, Clifford found Strange for another short touchdown toss. Central Michigan blocked Jake Pinegar's extra point try, but Penn State's 27-14 lead was enough.
"I'm proud of the way our team fought," Central Michigan coach Jim McElwain said. "I thought the guys never quit. That team on the other side knew what the Chippewas were all about toward the end of that game and that's something that makes me proud."
A 1-yard run from Clifford before a failed two-point conversion try early in the fourth made it 33-14.
Richardson finished 26-for-45 for 235 yards. Allen led Penn State with 111 yards on 13 carries.
Mustipher thanked punter Barney Amor for "being him" earlier this week.
Amor has emerged as one of the country's best legs so far. He averaged 45 yards per punt against the Chippewas and pinned them inside their own 10 three times.
"I love what Barney does," Jacobs said. "He's a huge part of the team."
Central Michigan: The Chippewas were able to move the ball, but mistakes stopped them in their tracks. In addition to the four turnovers, two first-quarter dropped passes forced them to punt while a bad offensive pass interference penalty in the third wiped out a chance to get in the end zone. A holding penalty in the fourth negated what would've been a 28-yard touchdown.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions shuffled a lot of players in and out of the lineup on Saturday. While they gave up 363 total yards, the Nittany Lions tightened up in the red zone and took advantage of their opponents' errors. Offensively, the Nittany Lions were efficient and mistake free.
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Updated September 24, 2022