The Roaring 20: Penn State-Ball State

Penn State linebacker-turned-defensive end Jesse Luketa snared a one-handed interception and returned it for a touchdown during Penn State’s home opener against Ball State. The Nittany Lions secured a 44-13 win for the program’s 300th victory at Beaver Stadium. Photo credit: Steve Manuel.

Here are 20 quick observations from Penn State’s home opener, a 44-13 victory over Ball State. The win was Penn State’s 300th at Beaver Stadium.

As always, members will continue to receive The Football Letter email on Monday that recaps the Nittany Lions’ game featuring editor John Black’s letter, a full photo gallery from Steve Manuel, and much more.

1. Friday night’s downtown pep rally was the perfect way to jumpstart the first home football weekend in Happy Valley. Seeing Brandon Short was an especially cool highlight. He’s back living in Happy Valley with his family, and he took time for photos with fans and also for a photo with the Nittany Lion with his children, a photo you can see on our Twitter account.

2. The Nittany Lion and Penn State Cheerleaders welcomed visitors and drivers along College Avenue before the pep rally. Check out this Twitter thread for videos and photos. The Nittany Lion even directed traffic. 

3. Penn State men’s and women’s hoops coaches Micah Shrewsberry and Carolyn Kieger spoke during the pep rally, encouraging fans to pack the BJC this basketball season. Hope that happens, as both coaches have been creating a lot of goodwill and momentum by connecting with fans and students this year.

4. Speaking of Shrewsberry, he welcomed good friend and current Boston Celtics President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens to Beaver Stadium on Saturday. While shooting in the north end zone, I casually looked over during a timeout and saw Stevens standing with Shrewsberry, taking in the atmosphere. I got the impression Stevens was trying to fly under the radar, though I managed to get a little bit of video. Andrew Clay from WTAJ snapped this photo of Stevens, who was sporting a Penn State hat. 

5. Good to see team arrival back this season. A few changes were put in place to allow for more room between the players and fans, though nothing that dampened the enthusiasm. You can see team arrival and the Blue Buses pulling up on our Twitter account.

6. The Nittany Lion welcomed the crowd Saturday with the usual pregame routine of running to the middle of the field and then signaling each section to cheer. Always gives me goosebumps. You can see the Nittany Lion in action yesterday on our Twitter account.

7. If you ever see a large tailgate in front of the Penn State landmark in front of Beaver Stadium (facing the Ag Arena), that’s hosted by Paul Anderson, who’s with our Nashville (Middle Tennessee) Chapter. We plan on visiting their tailgate sometime this season to learn more about how Paul and his group serve as a connecting point for Penn Staters — it’s an amazing location, after all — and when I spoke with Paul for a few minutes Saturday, he sounded in high spirits. Penn Staters had been stopping by his tailgate, and he sounded excited for both the upcoming season and to share his passion for Penn State. We’ll talk soon, Paul.

8. The pregame military flyover was a special tribute on the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. We got video of the flyover, and you can see that on our Twitter account.

9. On my way out of the stadium late Saturday night, I ran into three phenomenal Alumni Association volunteers: Anand Ganjam ’15, Mike McHugh ’12, and Lianna Trigg ’15. All three are currently serving on Alumni Council, and Ganjam is the current Alumni Association vice president; he’ll be our president in a couple years. Chatting with them for a few minutes was a great way to cap off an awesome day at Beaver Stadium.

10. As I left the stadium on the west side, lots of fans were still tailgating, with about two dozen parties going on in the west lot alone. That was nice to see.

Penn State sophomore receiver Parker Washington finished with six catches for 57, including a reception of 31 yards. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

11. A few times over the first two games of the season, Sean Clifford has actually taken some snaps under center, something that was never (we don’t think) done in previous years. New offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich has brought that addition with him. After years of being asked when the quarterback will take a snap under center, or when Penn State will recruit a fullback — these topics have become something of a running joke with Franklin and the reporters over the years — Franklin teased after the game that he thought taking a snap under center would’ve led to a bigger reaction from fans. But “everybody’s moved on,” he joked. Sports Illustrated’s Mark Wogenrich posted a nice video of Franklin talking about the subject.

12. Like many players on the team, Jesse Luketa is such an easy guy to root for. He’s occupying a hybrid role this fall, playing both linebacker and defensive end, and he had one of the nicest and most impressive interception returns for TD you’ll ever see. After the game, Penn State cornerback Marquis Wilson said it was the best interception he’s ever seen. Hard to disagree with that assessment.

13. If Jahan Dotson isn’t included in any conversation about who’s the best wide receiver in the country, he should be. After breaking free behind the Wisconsin defense last week for a touchdown, this week he scored after catching a short pass and eluding several defenders as he streaked into the north end zone.

14. Speaking of Clifford, he seems to be more comfortable each time we see him. You’d never know he’s working with a new offensive coordinator (again) this season.

15. Go onto the field at Beaver Stadium for the singing of the alma mater and James Franklin’s pregame lap. Both videos are on our Twitter account. You can also see a special moment for Franklin, who hugged his family before and after his traditional pregame lap.

16. After arriving at Beaver Stadium early Saturday, a regular habit for me, I noticed two additions in the south tunnel that immediately jumped out. Blue/ambient lighting was added, giving the feeling that the team is walking out into a rock concert for the game, which is an apt comparison. Also, a huge banner reading “1-0” was added right above where the players leave the tunnel and go onto the field. It’s one of the last images that the players see before taking the field, reinforcing one of James Franklin’s biggest mantras. You can see a photo of each addition on our Twitter page.

17. You can relive Saturday at Beaver Stadium, or in some ways experience it in a new way, with our highlight video. Each week, we’ll have two highlights videos: one on social that features the Blue Band, Penn State Cheerleaders, Lionettes, fan and crowd shots, team arrival, pregame warmups, and much more. Then, we’ll have game highlights on each episode of Football Letter Live. Visit our Twitter page for the highlight video detailing Saturday’s home opener.

18. The White Out returns for Saturday night’s matchup against Auburn. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. on ABC. It’ll be the first time the two teams meet outside of a bowl.

19. ESPN’s College Game Day is returning to Happy Valley for the fifth straight season. Penn State’s the only school to host the wildly popular show for the past five years, and if you have time to stop by campus either Friday or Saturday morning to see the set-up, it’ll be well worth your time. 

20. Go State. Beat the Tigers. 

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The Roaring 20: Penn State-Wisconsin

Senior defensive end Arnold Ebiketie (17) leapt to block a field goal during Penn State’s 16-10 season-opening win over Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium. The Nittany Lions combined a tenacious defense with timely offense to leave Madison with an impressive victory to catapult them into a four-game home stretch at Beaver Stadium. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

Starting with today’s season opener against Wisconsin, we’re introducing a new weekly feature on the blog: The Roaring 20. We’ll share 20 quick observations from the game, and when we’re on the road, we’ll also include insights from our alumni mixer and pep rally.

Hope you enjoy. And if you feel like we missed something or noticed something particularly noteworthy, please reply to us on social or leave a comment on the blog.

As always, members will continue to receive The Football Letter email on Monday (or in next week’s case, on Tuesday) that recaps the Nittany Lions’ game featuring editor John Black’s letter and a full photo gallery from Steve Manuel.

1: Major thanks goes out to Madison Chapter President Phil Bower ’99, ’01g for being such a wonderful host this weekend, which included Friday night’s alumni mixer. We know a lot of work goes on behind the scenes, and we can’t thank our dedicated volunteers enough. Bower was a guest on this week’s season premiere episode of Football Letter Live. You’re welcome to watch the entire archived episode, and you can see Bower’s appearance starting around the 44:10 mark.

2: I have a lot of Penn State memorabilia and also a lot of Nittany Lion clothes, though I don’t have a cheesehead. Not even sure which of those two categories a cheesehead fits into, though I know I want one.

3: Penn State letterman Miles Dieffenbach was so gracious to stop by our game day pep rally and fire up the crowd. Dieffenbach stayed with Penn State when he could’ve transferred without penalty (his career spanned 2010-14), he beat cancer, and he’s now a successful investment analyst at Carnegie Mellon. Miles: You’re welcome at any Alumni Association event anytime. Just let us know, and we’ll take care of you. Jump to the 10:00 mark to hear Penn State Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford intro Dieffenbach and also to hear the letterman speak.

4: Former mic man Eric Gaspich and former Nittany Lion mascot Zach Sowa are two Penn State graduates who love their alma mater. This weekend, the Penn State Cheerleaders and Nittany Lion unfortunately couldn’t travel, and the duo stepped in at our pep rally to fire up the crowd. For anyone wondering, Sowa can still do one-handed pushups, evident by the 21 he completed at the pep rally. The crowd loved it and cheered him on. You can jump to the 12:25 mark of our archived live stream to see them in action.

5: Alumni Association President Kelley Lynch ’87 enjoyed her first away game trip in her new role, and she spoke with Penn Staters at Friday night’s mixer and welcomed everyone at today’s pep rally. You can jump to the 3:40 mark and watch Lynch’s welcome.

6: Penn State VP for Intercollegiate Athletics Sandy Barbour also stopped by the pep rally, and we’re always grateful for her time and her enthusiasm for the Penn State Alumni Association. She routinely touts the power of our alumni network, and you can hear her greet the crowd starting around the 6:40 mark.

7: James Franklin is an emotional guy. He acknowledges it, and he embraces it. Check out his postgame celebration with fans on our Twitter account.

8: You can also see the players and coaches celebrate on the field following today’s win. There are even backflips. As we said on social: Trust us, it’s worth the watch. You can also view that video on our Twitter account.

9. It was good to see Noah Cain back on the field today, as the running back battled back from an injury last year. He helped with the victory by leading the team in rushing with 48 yards and a TD on eight carries.

10: I was walking around Madison after the game and overheard a conversation between Penn State fans and Wisconsin fans. The Wisconsin fan says: “Yeah, that’s when Pete Lisicky and Dan Earl were there,” referencing two Penn State basketball all-timers. That made me smile. Almost stopped to ask if I could join the discussion.

11: State Street is a cool Madison attraction. There’s a farmer’s market and some funky joints. We talked with a few alumni this weekend who said this was their first time here and that it was a bucket-item destination. Penn State visits Madison in three years, for a game on Oct. 19, 2024. It’s never too early to start planning.

12: Penn State’s defense, especially in the red zone and at the goal line, was superb Saturday. Quarterback Sean Clifford called the defense “stout” after the win. Totally right.

13: Speaking of Clifford, he explains how the offense found its rhythm in the second half, and you can hear his insights on our Twitter account.

14: PJ Mustipher is one of my favorite players to talk to, and you can see some of his postgame interview on our Twitter account. We’ll post our entire video, which is more than nine minutes, to our YouTube channel this weekend and share the link on our Twitter account. The senior defensive tackle and team captain is always insightful, funny, and leaves you with a smile after you’re done talking.

15: It was wonderful to hear some “We Are” chants throughout Camp Randall Stadium during the game.

16: It was also nice to see several former Penn State Alumni Association presidents in attendance during the mixer and pep rally, including Randy Houston ’91 and Steve Wagman ’82.

17: Wisconsin cheese curds are good.

18: We’re excited for our next away game trip to Iowa (Oct. 9). We hope you join us, and you can find info for the mixer on our Iowa Chapter’s Facebook page and register for the game day pep rally on our site.

19: We’re also especially excited for Saturday’s home opener against Ball State. Will be sweet to see the Lion Ambassadors’ S-Zone among the 107,000-plus crowd. Kickoff is set for 3:30 on FS1.

20: Go State. Beat the Cardinals.

For more on The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

Follow the Football Letter on Twitter for more videos, photos, and features.