The Roaring 20: Penn State-Villanova

Here are 20 quick observations/notes from another successful Saturday at Beaver Stadium, where Penn State improved to 4-0 with a 38-17 win over Villanova.

1. We’re starting off with a non-football related note, though an important one. Penn Staters led the way during the Big Ten’s recent One Big Week, which focused on supporting the student emergency fund. Alumni and friends made more than 2,900 gifts resulting in raising $214,000. Collectively, Big Ten universities raised over $600,000 from more than 5,800 gifts. Penn State supporters drove overall event success, contributing half of the total gifts and more than a third of the total dollars raised. You can read full details on Penn State News, and sincere thanks to everyone who contributed a gift.

2. Team arrival was packed. We took this photo a few minutes before the Blue Buses pulled up to the stadium.

Thousands of Penn Staters welcomed James Franklin and the Nittany Lions on Saturday morning at Beaver Stadium. If you want to attend team arrival this season, it’s usually 2.5 hours before kickoff and features performances from the Blue Band, Nittany Lion, Penn State Cheerleaders, and Lionettes. Photo credit: John Patishnock

3. We also captured the full team arrival, and our video includes seeing James Franklin and the Nittany Lions greeting the fans.

4. Two of my favorite signs spotted at team arrival read: “Hey Nittany Lions, it’s my first game. Please help me have a ball” — double meaning since players hand out autographed football on their to the stadium during team arrival — and “#14 Sean, I’m open.”

5. A few years ago, I started a new tradition of taking my own pregame lap at the stadium after arriving early. Not sure if it’s something I started doing because of James Franklin’s traditional pregame lap, though I’ve found it’s a good idea to take a few minutes, breathe deeply, and both appreciate and get ready for the opportunity ahead of me that day.

6. The Blue Band, Nittany Lion, Penn State Cheerleaders, and Lionettes truly make game day feel like game day. We captured a nice sequence before the game, with the Mic Man asking the crowd if they’re ready for Penn State football. Guessing you already know the answer.

7. While it looked a little different with a noon kick than at night, the team entrance prior to kickoff still looked and felt electric. See the team making its way through the south tunnel with our video.

8. Hearing the Blue Band play the alma mater is always great. Watch our video to go onto the field at Beaver Stadium and see the Nittany Lions sing along after the game.

9. The Nittany Lions rang the Victory Bell following Saturday’s win. See the action up close, including Sean Clifford, Arnold Ebiketie, and James Franklin celebrating with fans.

10. The Nittany Lions won their eighth straight game, with an announced attendance of 105,790. Some fans might grumble that Penn State only won by 21, though a quick look at yesterday’s national scoreboard will show Wisconsin, Minnesota, Clemson, Texas A&M, and USC (among others) all losing as favorites. Like James Franklin says, it’s all about going 1-0 each week.

11. Onward State posted a nice photo of the crowd. As the post states, not bad for a noon kickoff.

12. Two-time Super Bowl champion Stefen Wisniewski was at Beaver Stadium on Saturday to serve as honorary team captain. Penn State football posted some nice photos to Instagram.

13. The S-Zone looked great. So did the THON gold ribbon, which students organized to the direct right of the S-Zone. Shoutout to Lion Ambassadors for their tireless work, and you can learn more about the Alumni Association group and the S-Zone with our story. Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford snapped this photo Saturday.

14. I rode the elevator with Matt Millen as the Penn State All-American and four-time Super Bowl champ made his way to the press box to call the game for BTN. It was nice to see Millen, who received a heart transplant a few years ago as he was in the hospital battling amyloidosis, a rare disease that attacks the heart. 

15. With about a minute left in the game, Sean Clifford obliged a young fan asking for an autograph. Clifford signed a football and handed it to the youngster who was sporting a Penn State hat and Saquon Barkley jersey. Clifford threw for a career-best 401 yards and tied his best one-game mark with four passing touchdowns.

16. Similarly, senior defensive end Arnold Ebiketie stopped for a photograph with a fan after he wrapped his media session on the field. Ebiketie finished with three tackles and a sack.

17. Let’s keep the good vibes going: As I left the stadium Saturday, I saw Parker Washington posing for a photo with a fan. Washington caught two touchdowns and totaled five catches for 148 yards. 

18. Lots of tailgates were still going strong after the game. Including one that was rocking to Tom Petty. 

19. This week’s clash with Indiana is set for a 7:30 p.m. kick on ABC. A lot of people will play up the revenge angle after last year — though I don’t think that tired cliché plays a role for this year’s team. Penn State has higher goals than avenging a loss to a middle-tier team, unranked team. 

20. Go State. Beat the Hoosiers. 

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Old School Football

Football Letter creator Ridge Riley shared details of Penn State’s last two contests with Villanova in issues of the letter sent in 1949 and ’51. Photo credit: John Patishnock

Even though the games happened more than 70 years ago, I didn’t have to go far to find details on Penn State’s last two contests against in-state foe Villanova. All I had to do was turn around and open a drawer.

Let me explain.

We’ve been formally/informally organizing past issues of The Football Letter, and the more seasoned issues are held in safe-keeping in a climate-controlled environment. Specifically, my filing cabinets.

While Penn State leads the all-time series 5-3-1, Villanova’s actually won the last three times the teams have played, including in 1949 and ’51. We have Football Letter issues of these two games. Quick point, in case you’re wondering, the Penn State-Villanova series started in 1902, with the other games taking place up to 1936, so we don’t have issues for the Nittany Lions’ victories in the series (The Football Letter was started in 1938).

We won’t dwell on the details — the Wildcats won 27-6 in ’49 and 20-14 two years later — though it’s worth pointing out the ’51 game occurred in Rip Engle’s second season as head coach. Football Letter creator and author Ridge Riley spoke to Engle the following Sunday morning for an interview, and wrote “we” and “our” throughout the letter to indicate that Riley considered himself and The Football Letter very much part of the football program.

We should point out here that Riley’s assessment is absolutely true.

A few years ago, we uncovered an interview that Riley had with Joe Paterno in the mid-70s, and during the conversation, Paterno emphasized the importance of Riley including certain points he was making within The Football Letter. Reason being that if fans didn’t read about it in the Football Letter, they wouldn’t read or hear about it anywhere else.

Back to that 1951 contest. Here are a few other notes worth passing along.

— Penn State President Milton Eisenhower sat in the student section for the game, and afterward, visited the locker room to inform Engle that despite the loss, it was “the best game I’ve ever seen.”

— The Nittany Lions rushed the ball 59 times for a total net gain of 346 yards. Villanova, meanwhile, totaled 42 carries for a net gain of 186 yards.

— Reserving a ticket for home games in the 1951 season set you back $3.60 for reserved seats on the side, though you could get a seat behind the end zone for a discounted price of $2.40. And if you wanted to see Penn State play at Pitt in the season finale on Nov. 24, you needed to shell out a little more ($5.20) for a box seat.

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Penn State Preview: Villanova

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season.

Game details: No. 6/8 Penn State (3-0) vs. Villanova (3-0). Noon ET kick-off, broadcast on Big Ten Network.

Venue: Beaver Stadium.

Weather Forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 70 degrees. Times of clouds and sun; a great afternoon for football.

The Line: Penn State -30.5 (via SI Sportsbook).

All-Time Series: Penn State is 5-3-1 all-time against the Wildcats. 

Last Meeting: The last matchup between the Nittany Lions and Wildcats came all the way back in 1951. The game was played at the Allentown High School Stadium. Villanova emerged victorious, 20-14.

Last Week: Penn State held off Auburn in front of an electric White Out crowd. Villanova took down CAA foes Richmond, 34-27.

Penn State Wins If: It remains focused on going 1-0 this week. It’s easy to get distracted after a huge win against an SEC opponent last week in primetime. But it’s a brand new week. In college football, anything can and has happened. James Franklin will have been preaching to his players all week that this isn’t a time to get comfortable and bask in what they did a week ago. One hundred percent focus on Villanova equals a 4-0 start.

Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Villanova Wins If: Penn State has a major White Out letdown. If you’re expecting another 79-7 shellacking of an FCS opponent like the one Penn State dished out to Idaho a few years ago, you’re mistaken. Villanova is a legitimate FCS contender, and ranks No. 7 in the FCS Coaches Poll. The Wildcats are second in the FCS in total defense and they’ve forced 11 takeaways on the season. While Penn State should win this one comfortably, I don’t expect Villanova to get beaten by 70-plus points. The Nittany Lions can’t just show up and expect to win.

Count On: The Penn State running game to get plenty of opportunities to figure things out. It was another sluggish day for the rushing attack against Auburn’s front seven last week (84 yards on 33 attempts). If there was ever a week for things to finally click, this is it. All due respect to Villanova — and I mean that because its defense has only allowed 89 yards total on the ground through three games — if the Nittany Lions can’t find a way to move the ball on the ground, I’m not sure they ever will with consistency this season. I expect OC Mike Yurcich to try to feed Noah Cain, Keyvonne Lee and even John Lovett early and often to try and get this area of the offense some momentum. Penn State will need its running game to get significantly better as the meat of its Big Ten slate looms.

Keep An Eye On: Other wide receivers not named Jahan Dotson, Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith to showcase what they can offer. Penn State has as good of a top three wide receiver trio as anyone in the Big Ten. This is a great opportunity for veterans Cam Sullivan-Brown and Daniel George and youngsters like Liam Clifford and Harrison Wallace to demonstrate that if called upon, they can contribute in this offense.

Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Trivia Tidbit: With wins over then-No. 12/15 Wisconsin and then-No. 22/20 Auburn, Penn State has two wins over ranked teams within the first three games of the season for the first time in program history.

Sweet Caroline Moment: New category here to spice things up a bit. It’s always a running debate of when we’ll hear “Sweet Caroline” blasted over the Beaver Stadium speakers during a game. Put me down for about halfway through the third quarter as Penn State leads by at least 17 points.

Predictions:

John Patishnock: Penn State 55, Villanova 10
Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 44, Villanova 13

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‘First-class product’

The enhancements stood out immediately.

The blue concert-like directional lighting. The glistening new paint job. The rather enormous 1-0 banner. They all smack you in the face, metaphorically speaking. All these changes (i.e., improvements) were installed in the Beaver Stadium south tunnel before the Nittany Lions’ home opener against Ball State on Sept. 11.

The south tunnel is off-limits to nearly all fans, though it doubles as one of the most prime pieces of real estate in the entire stadium.

Why?

For one: every single recruit who has field access passes through the tunnel. I think it’s a pretty safe assumption that each of them is imagining what it’d be like to run through that tunnel on game day when they’re playing college ball. In James Franklin’s best-case scenario, those recruits are playing for Penn State.

Another reason: The upgrades make for pretty darn good television. Franklin mentioned ESPN and ABC when discussing the enhancements, saying the team wanted to clean up those images a bit. Not that the images looked bad before, but slapping on a new coat of paint and installing those lights adds a ton of production value. You can see an up-close view with the above video, which shows Franklin and the team heading toward the field prior to kickoff Saturday night.

And going back to the recruits. Nearly all of them — and most of their family members — are holding up a phone recording the action. Whether it’s a visiting high school player, a returning letterman, someone watching on television, or a current player or coach, the visual impact hits.

“We just want to make sure that everything we do, we’re presenting Penn State in a way that everybody looks at and says, ‘That’s first class and that’s sharp and that’s impressive,’ and that was another opportunity to do it that way,” Franklin said. “So when the eyes of the world — specifically the sports world — are on us, that everything that people see and associate with Penn State is first class and creative and fun and represents our brand the right way. I feel like that does right now.” 

Franklin continued:

“For our players, it’s a very short walk but I think they feel it too, they sense it as well. We want a first-class product. We want to make sure that we’re treating everybody in a first-class way on the front end, and I think we probably have more alignment with those types of things than we’ve ever had.”

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The Roaring 20: Penn State-Auburn

ESPN’s College Game Day broadcasted live from Old Main Lawn on Saturday morning. Check out our links below for plenty of video and photo coverage from an incredibly fun, successful, and exciting weekend in Happy Valley. Photo credit: John Patishnock

1. The noise Saturday night at Beaver Stadium was truly unrelenting. 2021 Auburn is right up there with 2002 Nebraska, 2005 Ohio State, and 2016 Ohio State, among others. 

2. Saw plenty of Auburn fans in Happy Valley over the last few days. Everyone was cordial and glad to be in State College. Looking forward to being on the receiving end of some southern hospitality next year. 

 3. The on-field celebration between players and fans was exuberant. See the jubilation up close with our video coverage

4. We usually keep the video on the team during the alma mater, though it’s good to mix things up, and we got some nice crowd shots during last night’s playing. It was an emotional scene, and you can visit our Facebook page to see fans and players enjoy the moment

5. College Game Day was such a thrill (again). Penn State’s the only school to host the wildly popular show for the last five years — the crew visited last year for the game against the Buckeyes — and not for nothing, having the show air on Old Main Lawn is the perfect backdrop for not just Penn State, but all of college football. 

6. James Franklin appeared on set to lots of applause. Check out him making his way toward the set Saturday morning.

7. Shoutout to Penn State fans for some clever signs.

8. You get the feeling Game Day host Rece Davis genuinely enjoys his time at Penn State. Davis, an Alabama graduate, has always spoken highly of the Berkey Creamery, the fans, and other aspects of Happy Valley. See Davis thank the crowd at Game Day after the show wrapped. We had an awesome view from the Old Main Bell Tower.

9. Lee Corso picked Penn State to end Game Day, with guest picker Saquon Barkley cheering him on. See the action from the Bell Tower, and you can see a little bit bigger view by looking at the screens on the side and above the stage. 

10. Speaking of the Bell Tower, we also snapped this photo. See anyone you recognize? 

11. After his appearance on Game Day, Franklin quickly made his way through the crowd — he had a busy day — and he welcomed Auburn fans to Penn State. This is something Franklin routinely does, greeting fans and staff from opposing schools. It’s a simple gesture, though I’m sure it’s something people remember. I know I do.

12. Barkley signed autographs for fans during his visit to the set. Associate Athletic Director Kris Petersen snapped this photo of Barkley with the fans.

13. Seeing the Blue Buses pull up to Beaver Stadium never gets old.

14. There must’ve been at least two dozen lettermen in attendance against Auburn, and that’s probably a low estimate. In addition to Barkley, Grant Haley, Michael Mauti, and Adam Taliaferro, who all led “We Are” cheers on the field during breaks, other lettermen watching from the field included Reggie Givens and Shelley Hammonds, just to name two.

15. Sweet Caroline never disappoints. Check out our video from the White Out.

16. Penn State has the most impressive 3-0 record in the country. No other team has beaten such formidable opponents, including one on the road. 

17. To the tailgating crew that lent me a bottle of water on my way out of the stadium at close to 1 a.m., I meant it when I said I’d remember your kindness. I’ll find a way to pay it forward. And if I pass by your tailgate again this season, I’ll be sure to say hello and thank you again. 

18. Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford and I stopped by the Paul Anderson-hosted tailgate Saturday to speak with the former president of our Middle Tennessee Chapter. We spoke with Anderson for a segment that’ll air on a future episode of Football Letter Live. Sign up for this season’s episodes online.

19. Last week’s episode was so enjoyable. We’re so fortunate that talented and inspiring Penn Staters are gracious enough to share their time with us. We welcomed Rocket City Chapter President Hilary Justh ’97, Penn State football author Jordan Hyman ’99, and beloved football letterman Adam Taliaferro ’05 last Thursday night, and you can view the archived episode on our Facebook or YouTube page. There’s even a Star Wars intro for one of our guests. We encourage you to watch to find out which one.

20. Go State. Beat the Wildcats.

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PENN STATE PREVIEW: AUBURN

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season.

Game details: No. 10/12 Penn State (2-0) vs No. 22/20 Auburn (2-0). 7:30 p.m. ET kick-off, broadcast on ABC.

Venue: Beaver Stadium

Weather Forecast (via AccuWeather): Humid with some sun; fog in the morning, then a stray t-shower in the afternoon. High of 80.

The Line: Penn State -6.5

All-Time Series: This is the third matchup between the two schools, with each splitting wins in the previous two meetings.

Last Meeting: Penn State fell 13-9 against the Tigers in the 2002 Capital One Bowl. Robbie Gould hit three field goals for the Nittany Lions.

Throwback Classic (1995): In the 1995 Outback Bowl, Penn State crushed Auburn, 43-14 behind quarterback Wally Richardson. Wally threw for four touchdown passes while Bobby Engram recorded four catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns.

Last Week: Penn State topped Ball State in the Lions’ home opener, 44-13. Auburn, meanwhile, crushed FCS foe Alabama State, 62-0.

Photos by Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

The Lead: What an atmosphere we’ve got brewing in Happy Valley. White Out. Game Day. SEC opponent. Primetime. If you love college football, it doesn’t get much better than this. Both teams come into this game with a lot of momentum, having started each of their seasons at 2-0. The Nittany Lions have certainly faced the tougher opposition compared to the Tigers, picking up wins over then-No. 12 Wisconsin on the road before a convincing home win over defending MAC Champs Ball State last week. Auburn dispatched Akron and Alabama State with ease in the first two weeks but Penn State will obviously be a much bigger test for first-year head coach Bryan Harsin.

Penn State Wins If: The Nittany Lions can win the big play and turnover battle. There’s not much that gets a home crowd going more than big plays on offensive and forced turnovers on defense. James Franklin always preaches about the need to win the explosive play battle and finish on the plus side in the turnover margin. Penn State has done just that in the opening two weeks and it’s set them up for success. Much like Sean Clifford, Tigers signal caller Bo Nix is an experienced quarterback with plenty of big game experience. He won’t be easily rattled by the electric atmosphere inside Beaver Stadium. Though, if Arnold Ebiketie and the rest of the Penn State defensive line can get pressure and force him to make decisions quicker than he’d like to, that bodes well for the Nittany Lions with the terrific secondary that they employ.

Auburn Wins If: Bo Nix balls out. As mentioned above, Bo Nix is not a stranger to playing on the road in hostile environments. Heck, he’s had to do it just about every week in the SEC the past two years as Auburn’s starting quarterback. He’s going to need to be at his best if Auburn is going to pull off the road upset. If the blocking holds up well up front for Auburn and Nix is afforded the time and space to able to create with his arm and his legs, the Tigers can move the ball against this stingy Nittany Lions defense. Then, if Nix and Auburn can capitalize on those drives by getting into the end zone, the Tigers certainly have what it takes to win this game. Much was expected of Nix upon his arrival as a freshman, it hasn’t quite lived up to those expectations. But there’s no bigger and better showcase for you to re-announce yourself to the college football world than this Saturday’s showdown.

Count On: A few false start penalties for Auburn. Yes, yes, Auburn players have certainly played in environments that were loud before. Still, it really doesn’t matter your experience level, noise makes a difference for communication on offense. I’m not saying the crowd will be why the Tigers lose the game, but a few early-game jitters where the blue and white fans hollering at full volume will result in a few penalties for the Tigers offense.

Keep An Eye On: Noah Cain. The Penn State running game hasn’t fully clicked into gear yet, but it looks to be building each week. Cain had a productive day last week against Ball State (69 yards rushing and a touchdown). Look for him to carry that over to this week’s game. The Nittany Lions will need him against this SEC front seven.

Trivia Tidbit: This is Auburn’s first Big Ten road game since 1931. That’s before the SEC was even formed.

Predictions:

John Patishnock: Penn State 42, Auburn 13

Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 38, Auburn 24

Fitting into the Family

Senior defensive end Arnold Ebiketie (17) has had an immediate impact for Penn State, blocking a field goal and recording a sack in Madison a few weeks ago. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

It didn’t take long for Arnold Ebiketie to have an impact this season for Penn State.

How long? Exactly one snap.

“I looked over after the first play and saw he made a play, and then the next series he made a play. I was like, ‘He’s really good,'” PJ Mustipher said shortly after the Nittany Lions earned a 16-10 season-opening win at Wisconsin on Sept. 4. “For him to come out there, first game in Big Ten football, shoutout to AK.”

Ebiketie, or “AK” as he known to many of his teammates and coaches, recorded a sack and provided one of the most critical plays by blocking a field goal in the season-opening victory over the Badgers. Through two games, he’s helped the Nittany Lions limit their opponents to a total of 23 points.

Mustipher, a senior defensive tackle and team captain, added: “He’s fast. You can’t teach speed, and I don’t think you can stop speed. … He was able to use that to his advantage. … He made a lot of plays, so I’m proud of him.”

A senior defensive end, Ebiketie transferred from Temple late last year. There’s a lot to like about Ebiketie, who played high school football in Maryland before becoming a standout for Temple from 2017-20. He earned second-team conference honors last year, when he led the Owls in tackles for loss (8.5), sacks (4), and forced fumbles (3).

“When he came in, it just felt like he fit our family,” said senior linebacker Ellis Brooks, who added that what stands out to him the most is Ebiketie’s attitude and work ethic. “He comes to work every single day at practice. You can tell he’s really getting himself prepared to play Saturday.”

Ebiketie, who was born in Cameroon, a country in Central Africa, is majoring in recreation, parks, and tourism management. On the field, he wrecks havoc, which along with his intangibles, has earned him credibility and respect on the team. There’s also a seemingly easy-going side of Ebiketie, or at least a different side. After Saturday’s win over Ball State, he celebrated with students in Nittanyville and with young fans who lined the south tunnel to see the Nittany Lions walk off the field and into the locker room.

“He’s an awesome young man,” James Franklin said this week. “He’s very appreciative of the experience that he’s having at Penn State. He’s always got a huge smile on his face. He’s a mature young man. He’s great with his teammates, but he’s also got a really good way with the staff. He understands how to live in both of those worlds and do it in a way that’s very relatable and respected. He’s obviously a very talented football player that’s got a bright future.”

Ebiketie was a notable transfer for Penn State and has erased any sort of drop-off that might be expected after the Nittany Lions had two defensive ends selected in this year’s NFL Draft (Ofade Oweh and Shaka Toney). Teammates jokingly teased Ebiketie that playing in the Big Ten would be different, though he’s clearly been ready from the start.

Franklin noted that Ebiketie was a good player when he arrived, and he believes Ebiketie has only gotten better by working with defensive line coach John Scott Jr. and with grad assistant Deion Barnes. By putting in work in the weight room and focusing on his body composition and nutrition, Ebikeite “has really developed in the time that he’s been on campus,” Franklin said.

You can check out the video below to see Ebiketie talking about the need to continuing to work. This was after he had a breakout game against the Badgers in his first contest for Penn State. You get the sense that Ebiketie was destined to always be a Nittany Lion, to always play in Happy Valley, with how seamlessly he’s adjusted to life at Penn State, where Franklin has always advocated having a family atmosphere, one where sons and daughters, brothers and sisters sit alongside players and coaches and share in the experience.

“He’s very coachable, and I know Coach Pry and the defensive staff just have a ton of trust in him and how he plays,” Franklin said. “We love him, he’s been a great pick up. We had victory Monday meal last night at Pollock (Commons), and he was there with my wife and kids, laughing and telling stories. We’re very happy to have him.”

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PENN STATE PREVIEW: BALL STATE

Penn State at Wisconsin. Penn State 16 – Wisconsin 10. Photo by Steve Manuel

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season.

Game details: No. 11/13 Penn State (1-0) vs. Ball State (0-1). 3:30 p.m. kickoff (ET), broadcast on FS1.

Venue: Beaver Stadium, where fans will be in attendance for a game for the first time since Nov. 30, 2019, a 27-6 win over Rutgers.

Weather forecast (via Accuweather): Mostly sunny with a high of 74 degrees. Near perfect weather for a day of tailgating. and football.

The line: Penn State – 22.5

All-time series: This is the first-ever meeting between the Nittany Lions and Cardinals.

Last meeting: N/A

Throwback classic (2009): Without a game to relive between these two opponents, I took a quick look back at Penn State’s second game of the 2009 season, a 28-7 win over Syracuse. Senior quarterback Darryl Clark passed for 240 yards and tossed a couple of touchdowns as the Nittany Lions cruised to an out-of-conference win.

Last week: Penn State went on the road and picked up a huge road win over then-No. 12 Wisconsin at Camp Randall.

The lead: Penn State returns home after that huge victory in Madison to face the defending MAC Champions, Ball State. While the Cardinals aren’t quite the level of opposition as the Badgers were, this Week Two contest won’t be a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination for the Nittany Lions. Ball State returns 21 starters from last year’s conference title winning team, including second-team All-MAC quarterback Drew Pitt. Penn State head coach James Franklin said in his weekly press conference that he does believe in the idea of “trap games,” and this game would certainly fit that bill. It makes his “1-0” mantra extra important this week. Don’t expect Penn State to look past the Cardinals after that win over Wisconsin and next week’s White Out showdown with Auburn looming — it’s just not in their DNA.

Penn State at Wisconsin. Penn State 16 – Wisconsin 10. Photo by Steve Manuel

Penn State wins if: the Nittany Lions avoid mistakes. Penn State played turnover-free football last week and if that trend continues, it should see off any potential upset from Ball State. Sean Clifford and the offense grew into the game a week ago and most importantly avoided turnovers. If they pick up where they left off, the home fans will leave happy.

Ball State wins if: Penn State’s turnover woes from a year ago return and the defense’s performance last week can’t be duplicated. The Cardinals come into this one with plenty of confidence that they can walk away with a win. The last thing the Nittany Lions want to do is make mistakes and feed into the Cardinals’ belief.

Count on: A raucous atmosphere inside Beaver Stadium. It’s been 651 days (We think we did the math right!) since fans of the blue and white got to see their in action at home. As James Franklin tweeted throughout the week, this is going to be one big family reunion. It might not reach the levels of noise and excitement as next week’s game with Auburn, but it will still be a ton of fun. We’re jazzed up to see the return of tailgates, team arrival, the Blue Band performing pre-game and at halftime, and all that makes Saturdays in Happy Valley the best show in college football.

Keep an eye on: the Penn State running game. The Nittany Lions struggled to run the ball against Wisconsin’s stout front seven last week. Expect offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich to try and get Noah Cain and the rest of the Lawn Boyz going early. If Penn State can run more effectively this week, it should open up the passing game a lot more for Sean Clifford and co.

Trivia tidbit: Penn State snapped Wisconsin’s 25-game home opener win streak with the victory in Madison in Week One.

Predictions:

John Patishnock: Penn State 38, Ball State 17
Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 33, Ball State 20

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Leading With Emotion

This is the fun part. After all the preparation, all the early mornings and late nights, all the meetings and film sessions and everything else that transforms coaching into a 24-hour-a-day marathon, James Franklin wanted to let loose. He’s apt to do this after victories, and for good reason.

He’s an emotional guy. He’s acknowledged multiple times in the past, embraces it. This who he is. Why run from it or hide it?

So, after Penn State knocked off the 12th-ranked team in the nation on the road on Saturday afternoon, the Penn State head coach went looking for fans to celebrate with. He didn’t have to go far, just to the first few rows of Camp Randall Stadium, home of the Wisconsin Badgers.

The video above shows Franklin sharing his exuberance with alumni and fans who converged on Madison this past weekend. I asked him about this earlier today during his weekly press conference, and specifically, how big of a role does emotion play in his approach to coaching, especially when it comes to connecting with fans, players, and players’ families.

Here’s what he said:

“I think it’s a huge part of my leadership style with our players and how we meet, how we lead, how we bond as coaches and players. I think it’s a big part. It’s my personality, my style, and I have to be authentic and true to who I am in my leadership role.”

If you’re fortunate to be in the first few rows after a Penn State football win, chances are good you’ll get to celebrate with James Franklin up close. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

Franklin referenced the recruiting process with senior star wideout Jahan Dotson, who caught five passes for 102 yards and a touchdown against Wisconsin. “Getting to know his family well and understanding the successes and challenges and adversity we all go through in our families, being a part of that is meaningful to me and important to me,” Franklin said.

The head coach also mentioned receiving a text message from Nittany Lion standout quarterback Trace McSorley earlier this morning. Point being: connections are important, perhaps just as important as anything else, and creating and maintaining those connections is critical.

Some fans Franklin knows well, some he recognizes. Either by a prior meeting, or sometimes from the wardrobe. Looks matter after all, and if you dress the part, Franklin will notice.

“The gentlemen with the white fedora on Saturday. I don’t know him very well, but I see him at all the games. I feel his passion. I appreciate his passion. He’s also handsomely dressed usually, and I appreciate all those things. When there is an opportunity to connect and show my passion and appreciation for them as well, because they’re a part of our family and process, I want them to feel that as well.”

P.S. The fan rocking the fedora is Cameron Panase, who graduated last year and was the president of Nittanyville during his senior season.

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Wednesday Night Lights

James Franklin and the Nittany Lions continued fall camp at Beaver Stadium on Wednesday night. Franklin said the team will practice at the stadium again Saturday, mirroring the game day routine at Madison for the Sept. 4 opener against Wisconsin, including going through the pregame meal and walkthrough. Photo credit: John Patishnock

The aura of Beaver Stadium is always there. Always. Even when the place is nearly empty. Actually, perhaps especially when it’s nearly empty.

That was the scene around 9 p.m. Wednesday night as Penn State was finishing practice and the media portion was waiting to start. The photo above was taken from the north side of the stadium, right at the back of the end zone. From there, you could look out and imagine all the great plays and noteworthy Nittany Lions who have elevated the program to where it is today.

Today, Penn State’s ranked again in the AP preseason poll and is nearing the end of fall camp, which means gearing up for the first game week of the season. Following the work out — which the media saw for the first 20 minutes — head coach James Franklin said that the team would practice at the stadium again Saturday in preparation for the season opener at Wisconsin on Sept. 4. It’ll be an 11 a.m. local kick, and Franklin said the Nittany Lions will mirror the game day routine. That’ll include the pregame meal and walkthrough, and then the team will scrimmage at Beaver Stadium at the exact time that the game will kick in Madison to help the players’ body clocks get acclimated.

For someone’s who as dedicated to details as Franklin, that shouldn’t be surprising. You can watch Franklin’s entire post-practice presser below, courtesy of Penn State Athletics.

Along with Franklin, tight ends coach and letterman Ty Howle, tight end Brenton Strange, and safety Jaquan Brisker also chatted about the progress the team’s made so far in camp. I asked Howle if he’s had much of a chance to talk with fellow lettermen who are back with the team in coaching roles, and if so, if he’s noticed certain themes that bond lettermen from different generations.

“Absolutely,” said Howle, who mentioned a few times how much he’s thrilled to be back at his alma mater. You can watch Howle’s media availability below, also courtesy of Penn State Athletics, and my interaction with him begins shortly after the 6:00 mark.

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