STATE COLLEGE – Unlike last week, when it took the Penn State offense a solid 30 minutes to get warmed up, Ball State’s defense provided the Nittany Lions a perfect launching pad for their playmakers on Saturday.

No. 11 Penn State rolled up 261 yards, 16 first downs and averaged 11.1 yards per completion in the first half to set the pace in a 44-13 win at Beaver Stadium in Penn State’s 2021 home opener.

“I thought we were very efficient on offense, especially early on in the game,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “I thought late (in the game) we were able to get the running game going.”

An announced crowd of 105,323 attended Penn State’s first game in front of a full- capacity crowd since Nov. 30, 2019. The win was No. 300 at Beaver Stadium.

Penn State last week didn’t record its second first down of the game until the second half of its contest against Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions eclipsed their first-half first-down total last week in their opening drive against Ball State as they began the game with a 13-play, 78-play drive capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by running back Noah Cain.

The Nittany Lions netted scores on four of their five first-half drives, and nine Penn State pass-catchers tallied receptions through the first 30 minutes.

Ball State arrived at Beaver Stadium with the nation’s 125th-ranked pass defense in the FBS after yielding 367 yards passing against Western Illinois last week. The Cardinals last year ended the season with the second-worst pass defense in the Mid-American Conference.

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford was 21-of-29 passing for 230 yards with one touchdown. Wide receiver Jahan Dotson ended the afternoon with 65 yards receiving and one touchdown to give him a career 15 touchdowns.

Clifford also added a 1-yard touchdown run.

“Cliff is getting better and better every week,” Penn State offensive lineman Juice Scruggs said. “He’s proving all the doubters and naysayers wrong by how he just comes out and how he works every day. It’s no surprise to me that he’s having this success.”

Penn State quarterback Ta’Quan Roberson appeared in his third game as a Nittany Lion. Late in the fourth quarter, Roberson registered his first collegiate completion with a 23-yard touchdown to tight end Theo Johnson.

Penn State’s defense was tasked with corralling Ball State wide receiver Justin Hall, the FBS active leader for receptions. The Nittany Lions bottled up Hall to the tune of six receptions for 35 yards. He was targeted 11 times by Ball State quarterback Drew Plitt.

Penn State defensive end Jesse Luketa tallied his first career interception in the third quarter. Luketa – who also plays linebacker – returned the interception 16 yards to the end zone in front of Penn State’s student section.

“Jesse made a lot of sacrifices for this team,” Penn State safety Jonathan Sutherland said. “It’s great seeing him show off his versatility. He can make plays at linebacker and defensive end. It’s a testament to him. He has one switch when he’s playing, and that’s on.”

Nittany Lions cornerback Daequan Hardy recorded the first interception of his Penn State career in the third quarter.

Ball State ended with 295 yards and 19 first downs, and the Cardinals converted four of their 16 third-down attempts.

Running back Carson Steele scored Ball State’s first touchdown on a 6-yard run in the fourth quarter.

Penn State’s offense was about as complementary as it could get. The Nittany Lions ended with 253 yards passing and 240 yards rushing.

Cain led all rushers with 69 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries. Keyvone Lee added 68 yards on eight rushes. Clifford tallied 66 yards to go with his first-quarter score.

“We prepared the right way this week because a lot of upsets happen in college football,” Cain said. “I’m just happy we were able to come up with the win.”

Penn State now shifts its focus to No. 25 Auburn (2-0). The Tigers defeated Alabama State, 62-0, on Saturday, and have outscored their two opponents this season, 122-10.

Next week’s kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., with ESPN announcing Saturday that the College GameDay show will air from State College.

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