After a big win against Wisconsin in Week 1, Penn State welcomes its first nonconference opponent of the season in its home opener in Week 2.
Ball State enters Happy Valley coming off of a 2020 MAC title, and it returns 20 starters from last year’s team.
Here’s how our staffers project Saturday’s tilt to play out.
Alexis Yoder: Penn State 38, Ball State 7
There’s no question Penn State blew expectations last week by walking out of Madison with an upset win over Wisconsin.
That victory gives the Nittany Lions all the confidence they need heading into their home opener against Ball State.
The reigning MAC champions won’t go scoreless or down without a fight, rostering 16 “super-seniors” and a bevy of returners from its championship team.
But the Cardinals aren’t used to playing in front of 107,000 fans or against the talent level of the blue and white.
The Penn State defense proved to be suffocating against the Badgers, highlighted by defensive end Arnold Ebiketie, linebacker-defensive-end hybrid Jesse Luketa and the safety duo of Jaquan Brisker and Ji-Ayir Brown.
The pressure remains on the offense to start stronger than it did at Camp Randall Stadium, but the Cardinals’ defensive unit certainly doesn’t rival that of Wisconsin’s.
The Nittany Lions will take care of business at home in front of a packed Beaver Stadium for the first time in almost two years.
Justin Morganstein: Penn State 34, Ball State 10
Penn State returns to Beaver Stadium this weekend in front of its home crowd for the first time since 2019.
James Franklin’s group takes on a Ball State team that’s coming off a MAC championship last year and brings back a handful of veterans from that group.
The Cardinals are led by fifth-year senior receiver Justin Hall, who holds the all-time reception record in program history.
However, if the Nittany Lion defense can play anywhere near the level it displayed last week, then they should be able to take care of business.
The offense should look to make a statement and fix some of the issues that were part of the sluggish first half against Wisconsin last week.
They ultimately get the job done and move to 2-0.
Max Ralph: Penn State 38, Ball State 17
I was down on Penn State last week, and the Nittany Lions proved me wrong. I’m high on them this week.
Ball State isn’t the same slouch of an opponent that a lot of nonconference games present (cough Villanova), and the Cardinals took home a MAC title in 2020. However, Penn State showed last week that it’s a team to be reckoned with.
Ball State’s defense isn’t as talented as Wisconsin’s, so Sean Clifford and his embarrassment of riches at wide receiver should be able to really get in rhythm this weekend.
The Cardinals may be able to keep it close for a while with a high-powered and veteran offense, though. Quarterback Drew Plitt and wide receiver Justin Hall have cultivated a record-breaking connection, and they’ll test Penn State’s secondary more than Wisconsin did.
Tariq Castro-Fields and Joey Porter Jr. should have their hands full with Hall, but they proved last week they should be up to the task.
Penn State could certainly fall into a trap game with Ball State, but the win against Wisconsin was too impressive to not ride with the blue and white this weekend.
Seth Engle: Penn State 35, Ball State 20
With a spread set at -23, Penn State is viewed as heavy favorites entering it’s matchup with Ball State.
While the Nittany Lion offense should be able to scrape together a significantly better showing against the Cardinals than they did against Wisconsin in Week 1, a 23-point difference seems a bit challenging.
Ball State is coming off a 2020 season in which they won the MAC Championship and finished ranked No. 23 in the final AP Poll.
Although the Cardinals defense is not up to par with any other Big Ten opponents, their offense is — they averaged 34.2 points/game last season and dropped 31 on Western Illinois in Week 1.
Quarterback Drew Plitt — an All-MAC second team honoree — and wide receiver Justin Hall, who’s been named to two straight All-MAC first teams, will serve as a dangerous combo Penn State’s defense must be ready for.
Don’t let the spread fool you, this game will likely finish closer than most expect it will. The Nittany Lions should be able to pull out a double digit win, but please don’t sleep on the Cardinals.
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