Penn State Football: getting to know your opponent, the Central Michigan Chippewas

This Saturday, Penn State Football will take on the Central Michigan Chippewas in their final non-conference game of the 2022 regular season.

Many fans may be unfamiliar with the Chippewas, mainly because this will only be the second ever meeting between the two programs. The first meeting came back in 2005 when the Nittany Lions rolled to a 40-3 victory.

Just like Penn State’s week two opponent–Ohio–Central Michigan is part of the Mid-American Conference (MAC), and is coming off of a great season in which they went 9-4 and beat Washington State in the Sun Bowl. Some key pieces remain from that squad, but overall, they’ve seen a ton of turnover this past offseason.

The Chippewas lost five all-conference performers on the offensive side of the ball and three on defense.

Central Michigan is coached by Jim McElwain, which is a name that may sound familiar to some college football fans.

Prior to becoming the head coach at CMU in 2019, McElwain served as Michigan’s wide receivers coach in 2018, and prior to that was the head coach at Florida in from 2015-2017. He also served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under Nick Saban at Alabama from 2008-2011, so he’s familiar with Beaver Stadium as the Tide visited Happy Valley in 2011. Plus, he was an assistant at Michigan State from 2003-2005.

McElwain certainly knows what it takes to win at the highest level, because not only did he coach under Nick Saban as previously mentioned, but his Gators won the SEC East Division title in both 2015 and 2016 before falling to his former boss in the SEC Championship game both times.

If that name isn’t familiar to Penn State Football fans, their defensive backs coach–Michael Zordich–should be. Zordich was a member of the 1982 National Championship team for Penn State, which is likely why they chose this week to honor that team.

The Chippewas will come into State College with a record of 1-2, coming off their first win of the season which was a shutout against Bucknell. They are averaging 36.3 points per game and allowing 32.0.

Though their record is not the most impressive, this team should not be overlooked. They lost a relatively close one in week one to the currently ninth ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys by a score of 58-44.

Offensively, the Chippewas are led by sophomore quarterback Daniel Richardson who is completing 57.5% of his passes so far this year for a total of 889 yards and has a touchdown to interception ratio of 7:2. Last year, he completed 60.4% of his throws for a 2,633 total passing yards, 24 touchdowns, and six interceptions.

Their leading rusher on the year is Lew Nichols III, who has five touchdowns and 258 yards so far through three games, but is only averaging 3.6 yards per carry. However, he was named the Offensive Player of the Year in the Mid-American Conference in 2021 and has an impressive resumé.

He led the nation in rushing yards in 2021 with 1,848. Nichols did this at a 5.4 yards per carry clip and found the endzone 16 times as a runner. He also added 338 yards and two touchdowns as a receiver.

At five-foot-eleven, 222 pounds, Nichols is a tough, physical runner that fights through contact and is tough to get to the ground. There is also some familiarity with him from two members of the Penn State defense, as he played at Cass Tech High School in Detroit with Kalen and Kobe King.

Lew Nichols III is definitely the best player on this Central Michigan team, and he will provide a great challenge for the Penn State Football defense. This challenge will be another good opportunity for the Nittany Lions to build on last week’s performance and continue to improve against the run.

Through three games, CMU’s leading receiver is Jalen McGaughy, who is a transfer from Ball State and has caught 11 passes for 200 yards and two scores through three games. Tight end Joel Wilson leads the team with 16 receptions so far and also has a pair of touchdown grabs himself.

Up front on defense, one name to know is Thomas Incoom, who has compiled three sacks through the first three games.

On the second level, the Chippewas are led by Kyle Moretti, who leads the team with 18 total tackles so far.

Finally in the defensive backfield, redshirt freshman safety De’Javion Stepney has five pass breakups and 16 tackles so far on the year; and he is someone for Penn State Football fans to keep an eye on.

There is plenty of talent on this Central Michigan team, especially on offense, so they should not be looked at as a walk in the park. That does not mean, however, that this should not be another dominant win for the Nittany Lions.