Raise your hand if you thought, or heard, or experienced someone hear, that this game would be of the “trap” variety heading into Saturday afternoon. The Ball State Cardinals had won the MAC a year prior, were coming into the meeting with an eight-game winning streak (7-1 overall in 2021), and returned 20 of 21 starters from such a successful season. They were also the little guy sandwiched between two massive tilts. Merely a minor detail.
As it turned out, opening the season on the road against a top opponent may have served to focus the Nittany Lions, as they put the foot on the gas from the opening kick, and didn’t let up until the end. That said, they weren’t going 100 miles an hour. They were cruising at a comfortable 55, doing only what they needed to do to come out with a win, and nothing more.
Penn State saw 10 different palayers record a catch, five non-quarterback players record a rush of positive yardage, and once again played an entire game without a single turnover, while themselves forcing two. One of them, of course, was Jesse Luketa’s amazing one-handed grab interception for a touchdown, which goes to show just how talented the linebacker/defensive end hybrid really is.
The Nittany Lions wasted no time getting on the board, as they took a methodical 12-play, 78 yard drive that ended with a Noah Cain touchdown. Sean Clifford got comfortable in the pocket, throwing quick out to several receivers and getting positive yards each time.
It wouldn’t take long for the Lions to score again, as Ball State’s second three-and-out led to a quicker touchdown drive this time, a 2:18 affair that took eight plays, and saw more quick passes from Clifford to his receivers.
Ball State would finally find some rhythm on offense, and they took their own long drive —of 15 plays, all the way down to the Penn State 6. That’s where the drive would stall, and the Cardinals would settle for a field goal. The Nittany Lions would record a field goal of their own in the next drive to maintain a 14-point lead.
After a couple of empty possessions for both teams, Penn State would take another drive to the house. Clifford’s lone touchdown pass of the game, Jahan Dotson took the pass for 25 yards to put the Lions up 21. Ball State would close the half with another field goal.
The special teams blunders reared their ugly heads again, as the third quarter started off with a missed field goal. Just as it looked like the offense would stall in the second half, the defense gave them the spark they needed to blow the game open for good. With 5:56 left in the third quarter, and after a pair of punts on each side, Jesse Luke took the aforementioned interception to the house, putting the Nittany Lions up by 25, and the game would not get much closer than that for the duration.
With the game already in hand, the Nittany Lions started subbing in the backups on both offense and defense, which lead to a score from Ball Sate to close what was a 31-point game at the time back to 24, only to watch the offense, led by Ta’Quan Roberson, drive down the field for his first touchdown pass of his Nittany Lion career. The touchdown grab also happens to be his first completion as a Nittany Lion.
Stats and Storylines
0 - The amount of turnovers Penn State committed in the game. Good things happen when teams don’t turn the ball over.
240 - Rushing yards by Penn State in this game. The Lions made it a point to get the ground game going, and going it went. Three Nittany Lions had 60+ yards on the ground, including Sean Clifford, who had 11 carries on the day.
51.3 - Punting average by Jordan Stout in the game. This is the second straight game where Stout averaged over 50 yards a punt. Let’s see how long he can keep the streak going.
Penn State is allowed ballers too - If Penn State’s wide receivers make acrobatic catches from time to time, it’s because they’re good. Other teams’ quarterbacks get credit for their receivers’ athleticism, yet when it happens with Clifford’s receivers, it’s a testament to Sean’s inability to throw the perfect pass?
Easy peasy - What most believed would be a trap game ended up being a bench clearing day. After last season, that’s a welcome turn of events.