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Jesse Luketa, Penn State’s Defense Shine In Win Over Ball State

No. 11 Penn State football won its home opener Saturday at Beaver Stadium, dominating Ball State 44-13.

It was an impressive all-around performance from James Franklin’s team, as all three units — offense, defense, and special teams — played a role in the win.

For the second consecutive week, however, Penn State’s defense played shutdown football all game long. After giving up only one touchdown to Wisconsin last week, Brent Pry’s starting defense didn’t give up a touchdown against Ball State, as the only touchdown was scored with a mix of backups on the field.

The Nittany Lions held the Cardinals to 295 total yards and 4.2 yard per play, both of which were lower before Ball State padded its stats in garbage time. Additionally, Penn State forced two turnovers and won the turnover battle for the second straight week. The star of Penn State’s defense today was Jesse Luketa, who was responsible for one of the forced turnovers.

The linebacker/defensive end hybrid has done nothing but good things since taking on his new role, which is something head coach James Franklin has certainly noticed.

“I’m super proud of Jesse Luketa,” Franklin said after the game. “Didn’t really know what his role was going to be coming into the season. He just trusted the coaches and trusted the program, and right now he’s impacting at defensive end, he’s impacting at linebacker. And obviously a first-career interception return for a touchdown. That was big time.”

Luketa’s pick-six, which was in fact the first of his career, opened up Penn State’s lead to 25 in the third quarter. After the game, Luketa reflected on the play and the electricity it brought to Beaver Stadium.

“It was funny cause right before it happened, coach Terry Smith told us we had to get the crowd more involved. So, I went straight to the student section and I just heard the whole stadium erupt. It was a great feeling.”

One of Penn State’s captains, Jonathan Sutherland, raved about Luketa’s big play and the type of football player that he is.

“It was great to see,” Sutherland said. “Everyone’s happy for Jesse. That was an outstanding play and it just speaks to his athleticism and just the football player that he is.”

Luketa has spent ample time trying to make the adjustment to defensive end. He stated multiple times after the game that he’s “comfortable” with his situation, which is a result of the preparation and work he puts in.

“My preparation,” Luketa said. “From the film study, working with my coaches in Dallas…even working with Deion Barnes. Big kudos go to Deion Barnes because I’ve been working with him every single day. Working on my technique, detail, little things, my steps, my strikes, placements — when to use what move in a certain situation.”

Luketa has certainly been a key part to a defense that has been playing lights out through the first two weeks of the season. The defense, from a mental standpoint, has been locked in, and it’s benefitting the players on the field.

“Our mentality is different, and the grit we’re playing with,” Luketa said. “We’re hungry. This past season we were humbled, myself included. We’re a tight-knit group…If they get into the red zone, it doesn’t matter. We bend, we don’t break. That’s been a point of emphasis.”

Additionally, it all starts for the Nittany Lions on the practice field, as Sutherland noted. He believes that working hard in practice translates to the game, which is why they’ve been able to be successful so far this season.

“I would say the way we practice,” Sutherland said. “We way we go about practice, whether its attacking the ball, pursuing to the ball, communication. We really try to work our tails off during practice so in the game it just comes naturally.”

However, despite the great start, Sutherland and his teammates aren’t content and are focused on getting better.

“We still got to make corrections, we still got to get better,” he said. “We’re not satisfied obviously, but it all starts in practice.”

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a senior majoring in journalism and is Onward State's managing editor. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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