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Penn State dismantles Ball State in front of near-capacity crowd

STATE COLLEGE >> Penn State’s home opener Saturday at Beaver Stadium won’t be one that will be remembered in many years.

Except by Jesse Luketa, Ta’Quan Roberson and the 105,323 fans who saw their first game in person in at least 21 months.

Luketa returned his first career interception for a 16-yard touchdown Saturday and Roberson, the backup quarterback, threw for a touchdown on the first completion of his career in a 44-13 romp past Ball State.

The 10th-ranked Nittany Lions (2-0) dismantled the defending Mid-American Conference champions on both sides of the football. They outgained the Cardinals (1-1) 493-295 and set up a Top 25 meeting with unbeaten Auburn next Saturday night.

It was Penn State’s 300th win at Beaver Stadium and one that still left some questions to be answered later in the season.

“It was better,” quarterback Sean Clifford said about the offense’s performance,  “but there’s definitely still a lot of work to do at every position, including mine.

“We did a lot of good things. We operated with tempo. We moved the ball well. We said we wanted to build after last week (a 16-10 win at Wisconsin) and I think we did that.”

Clifford completed 21-of-29 passes for 230 yards and one touchdown and ran 11 times for 66 yards and one score on a sneak.

Noah Cain rushed for 69 yards and one touchdown, Keyvone Lee picked up 68 yards and Devyn Ford had 32 yards as the Lions gained 240. Ten different receivers caught passes, and wide receiver Jahan Dotson and tight end Theo Johnson made touchdown catches.

New offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich apparently likes spreading the football around.

“That’s going to be a common theme,” Clifford said with a smile. “The more guys who get touches the better, especially early in the year.”

Penn State also showed diversity in personnel, tempo and formations. The Lions used sets with three tight ends, ones with two backs and ones with Clifford under center. He scored on what might be their first quarterback sneak under center since Christian Hackenberg played from 2013-15.

They also played at a rapid pace for most of the game.

“There was a lot of stuff going on,” Clifford said. “It’s good that we get a lot of personnel in the game. We showed a lot of different looks. That’s what Coach Yurcich is all about.

“He’s not going to be the guy who’s just going to run inside zone RPOs. He’s going to try to invent whatever he can and be the innovative coach that he is.”

Penn State scored on its first three series to take a 17-3 lead. The Lions extended it when Clifford threw a short pass to Dotson, who faked out safety Bryce Cosby and finished a 25-yard score.

“Sean stayed patient,” Dotson said. “We know he’s going to make the right play every single time. We have faith in him.”

Defensively, Penn State held Ball State to less than 200 yards until the final 10 minutes. The Lions limited the Cardinals to 69 rushing yards and came up with two turnovers, third-quarter interceptions by Luketa and cornerback Daequan Hardy.

Luketa played middle linebacker in the first half in place of Ellis Brooks, who was ejected for targeting last week at Wisconsin. He played defensive end to open the second half and made a one-handed interception of Drew Plitt’s pass, returning it 16 yards for the score.

“To see that meant everything to me,” outside linebacker Brandon Smith said. “I see how hard he works day in and day out at Mike (middle linebacker) and defensive end. You know what he puts out.”

Roberson came off the bench with 6:54 to go and saw game action for just the third time in his career. He threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Johnson with 2:10 left on only his third career attempt.

“It was huge,” Dotson said. “I’ve seen Ta’Quan work ever since he came here. He’s made tremendous strides. I knew he had it in him. We’ve been waiting for his moment.”

The Lions also had been waiting to play in front of their home fans. They played five times at Beaver Stadium last year before a handful of relatives at first and later no one because of the pandemic.

They were glad to see fans back in the stands.

“It was awesome to have everybody back,” Clifford said. “You can’t beat it. It was exciting. To see everybody back enjoying themselves and seeing their faces, that’s what Penn State football is about.

“It raises the level of play for us. We feed off the energy at Beaver Stadium. It’s home.”

Source: Berkshire mont

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