Heading into the 2022 season, James Franklin was on the hot seat after consecutive disappointing years in Happy Valley. However, the team has jumped into the top-10 this season thanks to some help from the No. 6 recruiting class in the country.
The Nittany Lions have quietly become a dangerous team in the Big Ten. Without a win over a top-25 opponent, there are certainly question marks about this team. But tough road wins at Purdue and at Auburn mean they have certainly succeeded when they were challenged.
This will be the best team the Michigan Wolverines have faced this season. They are led by a true freshman running back and a few players on the defensive side of the ball that wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
RB Nicholas Singleton
James Franklin's career at Penn State has been reliant on a superstar running back. Saquon Barkley and Miles Sanders carried the Nittany Lions to success in the past, but for the past few seasons, this role has been vacant.
In comes former five-star Nicholas Singleton. The true freshman is averaging 7.3 yards per carry, only second to Ohio State’s Miyan Williams in the Big Ten. Singleton has went over the century mark twice this season and has five touchdowns. Not only that, but he has already had a big game in hostile territory:
True freshman Nick Singleton after this 54-yard TD:— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) September 17, 2022
2 TD pic.twitter.com/f0x2ozmuq9
Michigan’s defense has been suspect against the run several times this season. I have a hunch the Wolverines stack the box this week and make the Nittany Lions play through the arm of quarterback Sean Clifford, who has seemingly been in Happy Valley for a decade.
The problem is Clifford has played pretty well against Michigan in his career: 550 yards and 6 total touchdowns completing 56.3% of his passes in three games. The Wolverines will have their hands full this weekend because Penn State can run the ball again.
S Ji’Ayir Brown
There may not be a better safety in the Big Ten than Ji’Ayir Brown. In 2021, Brown had six interceptions to his name but was overshadowed by Jaquan Brisker, a second-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Now, it’s Brown’s time to shine. He leads the team with 25 tackles, and now has 10 career takeaways after an interception and forced fumble recorded against Auburn a few weeks back.
"That is picture perfect."— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) September 17, 2022
Ji'Ayir "Tig" Brown with a textbook interception for @PennStateFball pic.twitter.com/BdPWdUBc41
He earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors for his play in the dominant win.
J.J. McCarthy has been prone to some mistakes that luckily have not come to fruition. He will have to be extra sharp when looking Brown’s way, as the senior safety already has two picks this season.
CB Joey Porter Jr.
Penn State’s secondary is relentless and Joey Porter Jr. certainly adds to that. The junior corner already has 10 pass breakups this season, which led the nation through five games. In the Nittany Lions’ last game against Northwestern, Porter Jr. was targeted just one time in 29 coverage snaps, and it resulted in a pass breakup. And it’s only a matter of time until those deflections turn into interceptions.
At 6-foot-2, Porter can line up comfortably over any of Michigan’s receivers. He has the height and length to cover Cornelius Johnson, but also the speed to be opposite of Ronnie Bell. He loves playing straight up on the line of scrimmage and can be a force in throwing off the timing of routes for receivers.
Porter is a two-time Third Team All-Big Ten honoree and will likely have some awards to his name by the end of this season, too. Whoever lines up against Porter Jr. is going to have a tough task.