The day has finally arrived, at 3:30 p.m. fans will be officially back at Beaver Stadium for Penn State Football. The long and agonizing wait will be over. That being said, before that we need to finalize the preparation for today’s game which includes our weekly interview with football enemies.
This week we met our friend Steve helwick from Underdog Dynasty for more on the Cardinals.
1. This Ball State team won the MAC last season, what are the general expectations around this team in 2021?
After finishing last season at No. 23 in the AP poll, Ball State fired 20 starters. With essentially the whole group together, the expectation of this program is to relaunch it for another MAC championship. Only Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas A&M currently have winning streaks longer than the Cardinals’ 8 games, so this team has every reason to believe they can maintain the level of play starting in 2020 and even invade the ranking.
However, Thursday’s opener against FCS Western Illinois was definitely a bitter start to the MAC title defense season. Ball State broke down at halftime at 7 apiece and only escaped with a 10-point victory. The offense looked rusty in the first half and the secondary allowed too much production in the air. Ball State dropped out of its opener a year ago and hasn’t lost since, so the hope in Muncie, IN is that the western Illinois game was more of a learning experience than it was. ‘a sign of things to come.
2. Most casual fans probably don’t know Ball State, who are two players on either side of the ball that fans should watch out for on Saturday?
Offensively, the answer is simple. Justin Hall leads all active FBS players in career receptions and reception footage. He’s got a lot of incredible talents, from his speed and running to his catching ability, and Ball State lines him up all over the court. You’ll often see him moving and he mostly lines up in the slot, so he could run into Jaquan Brisker or other security frequently. Hall is also a jet sweep phenomenon and his 89 career runs demonstrate Ball State’s affinity for giving him the ball in myriad ways.
Defensively, I could provide you with a multitude of names worthy of recognition. Ball State’s entire linebacking body in a 3-4 defense clinched All-MAC honors in 2020 with two linebackers recognized as first-team selections. One of those early teammates is reigning MAC Co-Defensive Player of the Year Brandon Martin, who placed eighth in the FBS with 11.3 tackles per game last year. Martin ate backfields with 6.5 tackles for a loss and was instrumental in stopping Buffalo’s rushed offense for third in the conference title game.
3. What do you think Ball State needs to do to make this a game, not necessarily a winner, but just stay there as long as possible?
To stay in this one for as long as possible, Ball State has to be ruthless with their run defense. The All-MAC linebacker quartet must lose blocks and hunt down Noah Cain, Keyvone Lee and the Penn State running backs around the line of scrimmage and force the Nittany Lions to beat them in the air. Ball State has managed to stack the box and force opponents to air it out in the past, and that would be the optimal approach for Saturday’s game. Wisconsin put the bridles on the Penn State running game, and if they hadn’t left Jahan Dotson and KeAndre Lambert-Smith inexplicably wide open in the field on numerous occasions, the Badgers would have benefited from an outing. impeccable defense against the Nittany Lions.
4. How do you think Ball State will deal with entering such a hostile environment as Beaver Stadium?
That’s actually an interesting question because Ball State’s success story was cast in silence last year. The Cardinals have climbed to the top of the MAC playing in front of minimal to no fans. Their first true road atmosphere since 2019 will take place in the country’s second largest stadium, and Happy Valley has an advantage on the pitch as powerful as it is in college football. That energy is going to radiate strongly within the Penn State defense – especially on the third downs – and I think the environment could negatively impact Ball State’s offense when tackling long-range situations.
5. What is our prediction for Saturday’s game, who do you think will be the Cardinals’ best player in the game?
Penn State 38, Ball State 10. The Nittany Lions defense impressed me more than any unit in the country last weekend. It is honestly absurd that Wisconsin has scored only once in four possessions inside the 10-yard line, and Penn State has some high-caliber talent (Arnold Ebiketie, Ellis Brooks and Jaquan Brisker) at all levels of defense. That being said, it’s hard to imagine Ball State registering more than two scores at Happy Valley, but Justin Hall is bound to make a few plays to bring the Cardinals to the board.
When the Nittany Lions get the ball they will have more offensive success than the week before, but Ball State is still expected to fabricate several saves and possibly turnovers. I don’t trust Penn State to drop 50 teams yet, but I think a strong connection between Sean Clifford and Jahan Dotson gets the offense into a better rhythm this week. For Ball State, I’ll be handing MVP honors to outside linebacker Jimmy Daw who seems to improve every time he takes the field. The defensive MVP of the 2020 MAC Championship game has racked up 12 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and one interception in Ball State’s last two games of 2020, and he will bring his physical punching ability to the Nittany Lions’ rushing offense. .
Once again thank you to Steve for answering our questions! Have a good day everyone and have a good game.