After an impressive debut, Penn State will have to avoid the trap before Auburn comes to town next week. Expect the Nittany Lions to work on all the things that didn’t quite click in the season opener. Establish the run game, get some more consistency from Sean Clifford, iron out the place kicking, and get a heavy dose of depth players on the field for real game experience. Yes, the defense played extremely well, but they still left several turnovers on the field, so even they can get better too and we’ll probably see more of the young guys, like Kalen King, out there.
Penn State 62, Ball State 13
This is one that certainly screams trap game. Ball State is the defending MAC Champions and returns most of their team including their quarterback. Combine that with this being sandwiched between an emotional road victory over a top 15 team and a looming White Out against another top 25 foe and a sluggish start from the Nittany Lions would not be a major surprise.
That said, it’s Ball State. Beaver Stadium should be rocking as the Beav is filled with fans for the first time since November 2019 and the Nittany Lions will certainly feed off of this.
What will be worth watching most this weekend will be Penn State’s offensive line. They played much better in the second half last week and now face a front 7 that is not one of the 10 best in the country. I want to see the offensive line come out and push a much lesser opponent around. If that happens there will be no long-term worries about Phil Trautwein’s unit from yours truly.
After a sluggish start, the Nittany Lions roll and likely find themselves in the top 10 ahead of next weekend’s White Out.
Penn State 38, Ball State 14
I have no reason to think this, but I don’t think Penn State comes out slow. Sure, they had a tough, tough game last week, and have a top 25 showdown against Auburn looming. But this team came out on the road in week 1 fired UP. Something just seems a bit different this year, between the message James Franklin is putting out there, the comments from the players, and just the general feel of the program.
Penn State carries its momentum from last week’s second half, gets up early, and midway through the third the second team is giving it a go.
Penn State 42, Ball State 14
It’s not crazy to think that it takes Penn State a couple of quarters to truly pull away from Ball State, but as the week has gone on, I’ve become more and more confident that Penn State will jump on Ball State from the start. I think the win against Wisconsin gave this team a lot of confidence, and as we’ve seen during the James Franklin era, this program usually doesn’t have letdowns after big wins. It’s actually the opposite: they are great at turning the page after going 1-0. Not so great (see: Michigan State in 2017 and 2018, Indiana/Ohio State 2020) after going 0-1.
Penn State 38, Ball State 17
Also, as promised...
Last week we found out that the defense would be back to form after a disappointing outing in 2020. This week, we’ll find out that the offense will make strides under new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich. Reminiscent of the 2016 season, it may not be until week 7-ish where we truly see the offense explode, but with each passing game, we see a little bit more and more from what will ultimately become a death machine come November 27, 2021.
Penn State 56, Ball State 17
If PSU were coming out of Madison with an ell instead of a dub, I would be much more concerned about this one. It won’t surprise me if Ball State hangs around for 2-2.5 quarters, but give me a PSU squad brimming with confidence to ultimately roll the defending MAC champs. I think the offense puts together a more balanced attack with Noah Cain and Jahan Dotson both scoring a pair of TD’s as well as KeAndre Lambert-Smith catching his first collegiate TD.
Penn State 42, Ball State 17
Ball State is supposed to be pretty damn good this year. After all, the Cardinals bring back 21 starters from a 7-1 team. But in week one, they gave up 367 yards through the air to Western Illinois. Not great! How not great? Well, WIU has two wins since the start of the 2019 season, and that’s as FCS members of the Missouri Valley Conference. Stands to reason that Mike Yurcich and Jahan Dotson might could find a way to exploit that weakness. If the offense can’t get rolling this weekend, then there’s a good chance it just never does. Thankfully, I do not believe that will be the case!
Penn State 45, Ball State 14
I’ll be completely honest - I expected to predict a very narrow victory for Penn State before last week’s game. However, the Nittany Lions were able to show me something that has quashed my biggest concerns - the overall ability of the entire defense at all three phases, as well as the capability to produce explosive plays on offense against what appears to be one of the nation’s top defenses.
Ball State is better than your typical MAC foe. The Cardinals finished the 2020 season ranked #23 and return all but one starter on either side of the ball. If you had a chance to watch them last year, you saw a tough, fundamentally sound team that doesn’t beat themselves - reminiscent of a MAC version of Iowa. Head coach Mike Neu has done an exceptional job, and his name will be popping up often once the coaching carousel begins. However, Penn State should be able to exploit mismatches on both sides of the ball to pull away, even if it’s not until the second half.
Dotson gets behind the defense to score on two occasions, while Parker Washington snags his first touchdown of the season. Keyvone Lee gets back in rhythm with 80 yards rushing while Noah Cain plows his way into the end zone for the second consecutive week. On defense, PJ Mustipher causes headaches for the Ball State offense with 3.5 TFLs, Arnold Ebiketie contributes two sacks ad a forced fumble, while Jaquan Brisker snatches an interception that helps Penn State pull away for good.
Penn State 34, Ball State 17