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Staff Predictions: No. 11 Penn State vs. Ball State

No. 11 Penn State football (1-0) will host Ball State in its home opener at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Beaver Stadium.

The Nittany Lions are coming off a thrilling 16-10 road win over Wisconsin that led to James Franklin’s squad moving up eight spots in the AP Top 25 Poll. The Cardinals took care of business in their home opener last week by beating Western Illinois 31-21.

With Penn State coming into this game riding momentum, our staff believes it’ll head into White Out week with a 2-0 record.

Samuel Brungo (1-0): Penn State 38, Ball State 16

There are a few things to take into account here. First, Ball State is not a team that can be overlooked. As a premier team in its conference, it received votes in this week’s AP Top 25 poll. We have seen the Nittany Lions play down to certain teams in the past, including Appalachian State a few years back. I think this would be a similar game to that if it were week 1.

That being said, we have to take into consideration that Penn State is back. Yep, I said it. With a dominant defensive performance last week and an offense that clicked into place in the second half, the Nittany Lions should not have any issue with Ball State.

Sean Clifford will have touchdown passes to Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington, as well as one with his feet. The running back room will shine, showing the depth that it has. The defense will add to last week’s total and force four turnovers. State by 22.

Frankie Marzano (1-0): Penn State 31, Ball State 21

This is no cupcake game for the Nittany Lions. Coming off winning the MAC conference just last year, Ball State is a good football team, and it has a lot of returning talent on its defense. The Nittany Lions’ defense will hold Ball State in the first half, but it won’t ever feel like Penn State is running away with the game.

I expect Sean Clifford and Co. to execute their game plan and roll into Auburn with a win as the defense continues its momentum from last week.

Mikey DeAngelis (0-0): Penn State 23, Ball State 10

After last week’s defensive masterclass by Penn State, I expect another low score from the opponent. However, I expect Ball State to give the Nittany Lions a bit more of a scare than many Penn Staters expect. I’m predicting another slow start from the Penn State offense and a quick start from Ball State’s offense that may catch the defense off guard.

However, I expect James Franklin’s team to rebound in the second or third quarter, taking over the game and putting on a show for the first packed Beaver Stadium crowd in quite some time. Expect a few excellent plays from Sean Clifford, but I anticipate this game will be sealed by the defense in the second half, shutting down Ball State in a clutch moment to seal a semi-comfortable win for Penn State.

Adam Babetski (0-0): Penn State 31, Ball State 17

On paper, this looks like an easy win, but Ball State is a deceptively good team. The defending MAC champions were quietly ranked No. 23 in the AP Top 25 Poll to end last season, and the Cardinals received votes to be in this week’s poll.

Penn State is by far the biggest matchup on Ball State’s schedule this year, and the two schools will be facing off for the first time ever. Needless to say, Ball State will be eager to prove itself.

Penn State’s biggest challenge will be to contain quarterback Drew Plitt, who threw for two touchdowns last week and is entering his fifth season at the helm of an experienced offense. That being said, Penn State’s defense put together an outstanding effort against a tougher opponent last week. The Cardinals will put up a fight and keep it close, but Penn State should be able to handle them without any of last week’s nail-biting.

Sam Fremin (0-0): Penn State 34, Ball State 13

While I think there is tangible danger in underestimating Ball State, I would be very surprised to see a Penn State loss. Despite its relatively balanced attack and having put 31 points on the board, Ball State’s offensive success came mostly from long, explosive scoring plays (including three 35+ yard passing touchdowns). The Nittany Lions’ reloaded pass defense is not going to allow many plays that blow the top off.

The biggest question is whether or not Sean Clifford and Penn State’s offense can present a more formidable image against a thinner defensive opponent. Ball State’s defense only recorded two sacks (by the same player) and a single quarterback hurry. If Clifford doesn’t improve upon last week’s meager 55% complete rate, it may pose some concern for the Nittany Lions’ remaining schedule. However, I don’t anticipate it playing a critical factor in the outcome of this weekend’s contest.

Nolan Wick (0-0): Penn State 30, Ball State 13

Although the Nittany Lions should win this game, the 2020 MAC Champion Ball State Cardinals are the wrong team to sleep on. Quarterback Drew Plitt has talent, throwing for 188 yards and two touchdowns last week in Ball State’s 31-21 win over Western Illinois. Running back Will Jones rushed for 93 yards and a touchdown, while wideout Justin Hall had 137 receiving yards and two touchdowns as well. Ball State has a talented offense, but Penn State’s defense can be lights out, as seen in Madison last Saturday.

The home-fields advantage will be massive, as Beaver Stadium’s deafening roar will be a factor for the first time since 2019. Sean Clifford, Jahan Dotson, and the new-look Mike Yurcich offense should easily take care of business against a defense that allowed 21 points against lowly Western Illinois.

Devon Craley (0-0): Penn State 38, Ball State 10

At no point during any of the four quarters will this game be close. I actually think I’m being far too generous giving Ball State 10 points against this Nittany Lions defense. From start to finish, Penn State is going to show the entire country that you can’t stick a Mid-American team like Ball State on the same field as the 11th best team in the entire country and expect them to look comfortable, especially going into a venue like Beaver Stadium. Penn State fans have been waiting since November 2019 to rock Beaver Stadium, and there is no doubt that these players will be feeding off of that energy. 

I fully expect this offense to get itself right after some hiccups a week ago in Madison, and to go along with that, I like Sean Clifford to have 200+ passing yards going into the halftime break. My official prediction is that Penn State will beat Ball State by a score of 38-10 and head into White Out week undefeated. My bold prediction is that Jahan Dotson will have at least 150 receiving yards, too.

Zach Donaldson (1-0): Penn State 45, Ball State 10

Penn State secured one of the biggest wins in college football in week one against Wisconsin, and playing back home at Beaver Stadium for the first time in two years, the Nittany Lions will be riding high entering into this contest with Ball State.

Although, the Cardinals aren’t a team that James Franklin’s squad can overlook. The defending MAC champions returned the majority of their production from last season and possess a potent offense. Led by quarterback Drew Plitt and his favorite weapon, Justin Hall, the active FBS leader in receptions, Penn State’s defense is going to have to bring its A-game once again.

However, it’s Sean Clifford and the offense that really need to take a big step forward. The Cardinals surrendered 367 passing yards last week versus Western Illinois, which shows that their defense is vulnerable, and it’s a prime opportunity to capitalize for the Nittany Lions.

Even with the threats that Ball State poses, Penn State should have an easier time compared to last weekend against the Badgers and ultimately come away with the convincing win.

Charles Reinert (1-0): Penn State 24, Ball State 17

This is not a game Penn State can look past, folks. Ball State is good. It won the MAC last year and is currently riding an eight-game win streak that goes back to last season. It also looked impressive last week against Western Illinois, with Cardinals quarterback Drew Plitt tossing two touchdowns and going 17-for-28 through the air. This Cardinals team plays hard-nosed football and will not back down from the challenge or from the fans, who will undoubtedly play a huge role this Saturday.

Sean Clifford and this offense also showed a bit of rust against the Badgers, and it took them an entire half to start finding their groove. I expect Clifford to have a couple of bad passes, but for the Nittany Lion run game to look more like the well-oiled three-back machine we’ve become accustomed to in recent years. I expect Noah Cain to break off a couple of big runs.

On the defensive side of the ball, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Cardinals’ offense struggle a bit. Not because their offense is bad, but because I’m very close on buying in on this defense (Can you imagine if Micah Parsons was still here? Good lord, talk about a defense). Arnold Ebiketie looks to be an absolute stud. It’s easy to say that about a player when they pop in Penn State’s first game of the season, but the thing is, the Nittany Lions typically open against a Kent State or a Buffalo, and the players shine against MAC talent. Ebiketie had himself a day against a very, very good Badgers offensive line, and Wisconsin has a history of putting offensive lineman into the NFL. The Nittany Lion secondary also looked very sharp In Madison this past week, and I’d keep an eye out for another Jaquan Brisker interception.

Connor Krause (1-0): Penn State 34, Ball State 7

There’s no question Ball State comes to Happy Valley at an opportune time, following the program’s biggest road win in nearly a decade and preceding the White Out. However, based on last week’s defensive performance, I can’t envision Ball State hanging with the No. 11 team in the country. 

Opposing quarterback Drew Plitt is an experienced passer who has thrown for nearly 7,000 yards during a historic run behind center, but Brent Pry’s defense should fluster the Ohio native early and often, leaving him with little time in the pocket. 

After a lackluster first half on offense a week ago, Penn State’s explosive play-oriented attack will open the flood gates from the opening series. Sean Clifford will show why he’s a top-3 quarterback in the Big Ten in what should be a decisive Nittany Lion victory.

Gabe Angieri (0-1): Penn State 31, Ball State 13

Yes, “trap game” has been thrown around quite a bit to describe this week’s matchup. Forget about it, Penn State is winning this game, folks.

The Nittany Lions went into Madison last week and beat Wisconsin with a dominant performance from their defense. I expect Penn State to keep the momentum rolling and beat the veteran-heavy Cardinals rather easily. Sean Clifford will build off of last week’s solid performance with two passing touchdowns, while Noah Cain and Keyvone Lee will dominate on the ground with over 200 total rushing yards and two touchdowns.

Brent Pry’s defense will turn in another dominant performance and allow just one touchdown. I’m expecting a defensive touchdown from the group, too.

Penn State will head into the White Out with a 2-0 record and a top-10 ranking nationally.

Will Pegler (1-0): Penn State 37, Ball State 14

At the time of writing this, the No. 11 Nittany Lions are favored by 22 points against Ball State. That’s a lot of points to lay for any team, but I see Penn State taking down the Cardinals by just around that margin.

The Nittany Lions’ offense was bad last week against Wisconsin — that’s obvious enough. However, the Badgers were expected to have a dominant defense this year (like they always do), and now Mike Yurcich gets to face off against a Ball State team that allowed 437 yards to Western Illinois in week one. The Cardinals got the win, but they allowed that offensive performance to a team that went 1-5 in 2020.

Ball State is rightly getting a lot of credit for last year’s impressive run. A 7-1 record and a MAC Championship is certainly nothing to scoff at, but the Cardinals still aren’t in the same league as Penn State.

Let’s see what Sean Clifford can do with some more time in the pocket, and sit back and watch Penn State’s defense do its thing all day.

Ryan Parsons (1-0): Penn State 31, Ball State 17

Although I think this game might be a bit closer than others are predicting, I’m thinking Penn State will come out with a classic out-of-conference beatdown Saturday afternoon. The score might feel close when things are settled, but I don’t think it will feel close at all throughout.

While this is a textbook trap game, I believe James Franklin and the rest of the Nittany Lions’ mentality will be to treat it as any other matchup. After how last season went, it’s hard for Penn State to take anything for granted. The defense will continue its lockdown performance, even against a sneaky-talented Ball State offense, and take care of business.

One of the big things to look for in this game is how the offense executes the run game and the deep ball. This is a prime opportunity to get some confidence back in those two facets of the game, which would undoubtedly help the Nittany Lions moving forward. Keep an eye on the offensive line as well. If it can give Clifford a solid pocket, this game might not be close.

Matt DiSanto (0-1): Penn State 38, Ball State 24

I’m still not high on this Penn State team, but the Nittany Lions aren’t losing to Ball State. I’m smashing the over on Arnold Ebiketie sacks, Jahan Dotson catches, and dick jokes from the crowd.

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