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Smeltzer: Is it Tinsley Time?

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN - SEPTEMBER 01: Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver Mitchell Tinsley (5) and Penn State Nittany Lions offensive lineman Juice Scruggs (70) celebrate a touchdown during the college football game between the Purdue Boilermakers and Penn State Nittany Lions on September 1, 2022, at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)

Mitch Tinsley didn’t get to play in games like these before he got to Penn State.

Sure, the fifth-year senior wideout got to play against big time opponents before he got to Penn State.

But Western Kentucky-Michigan State isn’t exactly a game that moves the needle nationally.

Penn State-Michigan is, as is Penn State-Ohio State.

When Tinsley committed to transfer to Penn State Christmas Eve, Penn State got a big-time player, and Tinsley joined a big-time program.

Tinsley (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) didn’t come to Penn State with anything to prove. Any receiver who can catch 14 touchdowns and exceed 1,400 yards in a season at the DI level— which Tinsley did last season— can play, no matter what the competition

Through five games at Penn State, Tinsley has yet to pop off the way he often did at Western Kentucky.

Now, Tinsley hasn’t been a flop. He played well in Penn State’s opener at Purdue (seven catches, 84 yards and a touchdown) and was a big reason Penn State won that game.

But in the four games since then, he hasn’t had more than 51 yards.

There are factors out of Tinsley’s control that have led to him not being the difference-maker Penn State fans hoped for starting to Christmas Eve.

For one, Penn State can had something it didn’t in 2021: A running game.

Thanks to “Nick and the Fatman,” Penn State can run the ball.

Freshmen studs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen have combined to rush for 766 yards and eight touchdowns through five games, averaging around 6.4 yards per carry.

Penn State collectively has ran the ball 195 times this season and thrown it 165 times.

Last season, Penn State threw the ball 486 times and ran it 437.

Quarterback Sean Clifford finished fourth in the Big Ten in passing attempts, and could have finished second if he didn’t miss most of Penn State’s loss to Iowa with a now-infamous injury.

This year, Clifford is 11th of 14 quarterbacks in passing attempts.

The most passes Clifford has thrown in a game thus far this season is 37. That happened at Purdue, and that was by far Tinsley’s best game in his brief Penn State career.

Clifford targeted Tinsley 12 times, per Pro Football Focus, which was four more than he’s had in any other game.

In Tinsley’s second best statistical game at Penn State, against Central Michigan, he had eight targets.

In Penn State’s other three games, he’s had no more than five.

You noticed anything there?

The only time Tinsley received double-digit targets this year, he finished 16 yards shy of 100, and that century mark is becoming increasingly elusive for Penn State receivers.

Tinsley doesn’t need to go for 100+ yards and multiple touchdowns for Penn State to beat Michigan or anybody else. The offense has other ways to be productive, both in the passing game, with Parker Washington another weapon, and in the running game with the aforementioned two-headed monster.

With that said, its hard to see Tinsley making his mark on Penn State the way fans expected him to without that type of performance.

Tinsley is using his last year of eligibility to play for Penn State. He only has seven games left plus however many Penn State gets to play in the postseason.

This three-game stretch that Penn State’s about to enter is the perfect opportunity for Tinsley to do that.

Penn State is at Michigan this Saturday. That matchup pits a top 10 team against a top five team, so a lot of people will be paying attention.

A week later, Penn State hosts Minnesota at Beaver Stadium for its annual White Out game. The White Out is something fans who don’t pledge any allegiance to Penn State look forward to and will tune in to watch.

After that, Penn State hosts Ohio State, which could be the No. 1 team in the country by Oct. 29.

That game just might draw a big rating as well.

The ship for Tinsley to go for 1,400+ yards and catch 14 touchdown passes has sailed, and anybody who was expecting him to match that in the Big Ten was setting the bar too high. People expecting him to match what Jahan Dotson accomplished at Penn State were expecting too much as well.

Penn State is balanced enough and has enough depth to where Tinsley doesn’t have to light the world on fire for the team to reach its goals in 2022.

But it’d be a nice touch if Tinsley could take over a game, especially if its the type of game people come to Penn State to play in.

The remainder of Penn State’s October schedule will give him big chances.

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