Kelly Anxious for Shot at PSU

Is Penn State for real? That's what Central Michigan coach Brian Kelly wants to find out Saturday when he leads the Chippewas into Beaver Stadium for the first meeting between the two teams.

Kelly was impressed with Penn State’s performance last Saturday against Cincinnati. The Nittany Lions unleashed a big-play offense in the second half of their 42-24 victory over the Bearcats as freshmen Justin King, Derrick Williams and Deon Butler showcased the kind of game-breaking potential not often seen in Beaver Stadium during the program’s recent swoon.

But was their showing a sign of things to come or merely a tantalizing mirage? For now, no one knows. Kelly, understandably, is hoping it’s the latter.

“We feel like we can do some things defensively,” he said Monday. “They’re skilled offensively, but the strength of their team is in their defense. You can’t let them dictate the game with their defense — their defensive stops and takeaways. If we can manage to move the football, give our defense some good opportunities to defend a long field, you know, let’s get the thing into the fourth quarter and see what happens. That’s how we look at it.”

The Chippewas (1-1) are coming off an emotional 38-37 victory over Miami of Ohio, the two-time defending champion of the Mid-American Conference’s East Division. The defense struggled in that game, to say the least, allowing 524 yards. But senior quarterback Kent Smith was up to the challenge, leading Central Michigan back from deficits of 14-0, 20-10 and 34-24. Smith finished with a school-record 478 yards of total offense, including 356 yards passing, and he scored four touchdowns against the host RedHawks. Freshman tailback Ontario Sneed galloped 60 yards with 1:29 remaining for the winning touchdown.

Kelly, who is in his second season as Central Michigan’s coach, said he expects the Nittany Lions to come after his team aggressively, deploying all the new playmakers Joe Paterno has at his disposal. He believes they will be striving to refine their offense in preparation for the Big Ten season, which begins Sept. 24 at Northwestern.

“We’ve got to be prepared for that going in,” Kelly said. “We know how dangerous they can be from an offensive and defensive standpoint. We have to be prepared for them to use all their weapons. It’s a great opportunity for them to look at all their kids and find out where they want to go with their offense leading into the Big Ten schedule. So we will expect them to do those things again this weekend.”

Though there’s a good chance his team will leave University Park with a loss, Kelly said he’s looking forward to the trip for two reasons.

“One, it’s personal for me, having the honor to bring a football team into [Paterno’s] stadium,” he said. “The other is the great challenge that it brings our program. We’re going to be better because of it.”


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