Game Preview: Nittany Lions Face Ball State in Home Opener After Last Week’s Win

Story posted September 11, 2021 in Sports, CommRadio by Jack McCune

For the first time in two years, Beaver Stadium will be filled to capacity Saturday at 3:30 p.m. with sunny weather in the mid-70’s, as Penn State will begin its non-conference slate against Ball State, after the road victory against Wisconsin this past weekend.

The Nittany Lions, who moved up eight spots to No. 11 in the AP Poll after the 16-10 victory, were able to get over the hump of starting the year away from University Park as they will now have four straight home contests. Saturday will mark the first time that Penn State and Ball State face each other on the gridiron.

It’s easy to look past Week 2 and into next Saturday for the Whiteout against Auburn, but the Ball State Cardinals are no pushover.

The Cardinals of the MAC West finished last season ranked No. 23 in the nation, and after a 31-21 victory last Thursday against Western Illinois, they received seven votes for the Top 25.

Penn State head coach James Franklin is not so concerned about his opponent, but more about potential nerves that can come with the first home game, particularly for transfers and first-year players.

“Running through Beaver Stadium,” Franklin said at Wednesday’s practice, “it’s going to be a different experience. … We have a higher percentage of friends and families in town, and if you’re not careful as a young player, those things can become a distraction.”

Franklin noted how the offense fed off the defense’s four forced turnovers last week, including a blocked field goal, a fumble recovery and two picks. After just 43 total yards of offense before halftime, senior quarterback Sean Clifford and company amounted 254 yards in the second half.

Senior receiver Jahan Dotson caught five passes for one touchdown and 102 yards, eclipsing his average of 98 receiving yards per game last season. But Dotson was happier for junior running back Noah Cain, who’s back and healthy after playing just one quarter last season before suffering a season-ending, lower-body injury.

“A big play can happen every time we get the ball in his hands,” Dotson said about Cain, who rushed for 48 yards and a score with a 34-yard run early in the fourth quarter to set up a field goal later in the drive. “That’s a big focal point for us, making sure he touches the rock.”

The offense will look to stay on the field a little longer as the defense will face another tough test. Ball State’s fifth-year quarterback Drew Plitt threw for 188 yards and two touchdowns on 61% passing in his squad’s win last week. The secondary will need to keep close eyes on fifth-year wide receiver Justin Hall, who caught eight balls for 137 yards and two trips to the endzone.

Nittany Lion safety Jaquan Brisker isn’t worried, however. After sealing the deal last weekend with a game-ending interception, the fifth-year senior said his unit is feeding off that energy, and that the home crowd will supply even more.

“The defense, we set a standard that’s very high, obviously, making a lot of red zone stops … in the game,” Brisker said. “Every time you walk into Beaver Stadium, it’s just a crazy feeling, a feeling you never forget, so I just can’t wait.”

The Nittany Lions will look to start 2-0 for the first time since 2019 when they went undefeated in Happy Valley and finished the season 11-2.

 

Jack McCune is a fourth-year student majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email jxm1237@psu.edu.