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Penn State faces Ball State in its home opener Saturday; here's what you need to know

The No. 19/20 Nittany Lions host the defending MAC champions in the first-ever meeting between the two schools. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. on FS1.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — After winning a nail-biter over Wisconsin in its season opener last weekend, Penn State returns to Happy Valley Saturday to host Ball State in its home opener.

Game time is 3:30 p.m. on FS1.

Here's what you need to know about the matchup, with thanks to Penn State Athletics Communications:

Last week: Penn State opened both its season and its Big Ten schedule with a hard-fought 16-10 victory over Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium. After battling to a scoreless tie at halftime, the Nittany Lion offense woke up in the second half, putting up 254 yards and all of its points. 

QB Sean Clifford completed 18 of 33 passes for 247 yards and found Jahan Dotson for a 49-yard touchdown. Dotson finished with five catches for 102 yards in all. RB Noah Cain was bottled up for the first half, but broke loose for a 34-yard run in the second half and later scored on a short plunge to give the Nittany Lions the lead for good.

But the real stars of the game were on defense for the Lions, who harassed Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz all day and forced three turnovers, including a pair of interceptions on the Badgers' last two possessions to preserve their slim lead. 

Jaquan Brisker and Arnold Ebiketie were two of Penn State's defensive standouts against Wisconsin. Brisker's interception from inside the 10-yard line helped seal the victory, and Ebiketie battled through an injury to have a huge impact on the game. He even blocked a 25-yard field goal attempt in the first half.

Dotson's long touchdown catch was his eighth career TD reception of 40 yards or more. He also recorded the seventh 100-yard receiving game of his career, which is tied for third-most among current FBS players, and his third-straight game with over 100 receiving yards.

Penn State's victory was its fifth straight over the Badgers. The Nittany Lions improved to 3-1 when opening the season against a Big Ten opponent and earned their first road win over a ranked Big Ten opponent since October 12, 2019 at Iowa (17-12).

The Lions' win also snapped Wisconsin's 25-game winning streak in home openers. 

Back home in Happy Valley: Saturday marks the 62nd home opener in Beaver Stadium for the Nittany Lions, who are 119-13-1 all-time in home openers and 51-10 in openers at the Beav. Penn State has also won 17 of its last 19 home-opening games.

The MAC is back: While Saturday's matchup with Ball State is the first-ever meeting between the two schools, Penn State is familiar with the Mid-American Conference. With the exception of last season's abbreviated Big Ten-only schedule, the Nittany Lions have faced a MAC school in 18 straight seasons dating back to 2002.

Penn State is 27-3 against current members of the MAC. The Lions' last game against a MAC foe was a 45-13 win over Buffalo on Sept. 7, 2019.

About Ball State: The Cardinals opened their season with a 31-21 win over Western Illinois last week. Ball State put up 404 total yards, including 216 yards on the ground. 

The Cardinals went 7-1 and captured the MAC championship last season, their first title since 1996. Ball State closed its season with a 34-13 victory over San Jose State in the Arizona Bowl.

Ball State brings back 23 starters from last season. Ten of those returnees were All-MAC selections, including linebacker Brandon Martin, the 2020 MAC Defensive Player of the Year. Four of those coming back were all-conference First Team members last season. There are a total of 16 "super seniors" on the Ball State roster.

QB Drew Pitt passed for 188 yards and two touchdowns against Western Illinois last week, while WR Justin Hall had eight catches for 137 yards and two scores. RB Will Jones paced the ground game with 93 yards and a TD.

The Cardinal defense gave up 437 total yards, including 367 through the air.

Hall, another First Team All-MAC selection last year, averaged 213 all-purpose yards per game last season, which ranked fourth in the nation. He caught 49 passes for 665 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 231 yards and a score. In the return game, Hall averaged 24.6 yards per kick return. 

Martin was Ball State's leading tackler last season, with 90 stops. He also had 6.5 tackles for loss and a sack. 

Linebacker Jaylin Thomas was second on the team in tackling last year with 78 stops. He had nine tackles and a tackle for loss against Western Illinois. 

New this year in Beaver Stadium: With a return to full capacity in Beaver Stadium this fall, there will also be a return to traditional pre-game festivities to include tailgating, team arrival and traffic patterns. 

However, as the 107k strong return for the first time since the 2019 season, fans will see a variety of game day improvements during their visit.

  • Most notably, Gates E and F have been expanded to ease the entry process and reduce congestion near the Beaver Stadium ticket office. The expansion will also improve the fan circulation around the outside of the stadium with extended walkways.
  • Penn State Athletics has fully converted to mobile tickets for all fans and all sports to allow for improved ticket delivery and management, as well as fewer physical contact points. Fans have been provided a variety of resources regarding mobile ticketing this summer to ease the transition, including a mobile ticketing guide at GoPSUsports.com/mobiletickets.
  • To assist in the gate entry process, mobile ticket scanners and walkthrough metal detectors have been added at every entry point. Fans are encouraged to download their mobile tickets to their Apple Wallet or Google Pay prior to leaving for the game. To ease entry, fans are asked to enter the stadium as early as possible and they will receive a concessions discount ($1 off of every $5 spent) for the first 45 minutes after gates open.
  • Multiple charging stations will be located in and around Beaver Stadium, as well as the external customer relations booths. The kiosks have charging units and adapters for iOS and Android devices.
  • Inside Beaver Stadium, the ribbon boards have been replaced to upgrade programming capabilities and visual appearance. Additionally, there have also been numerous operational upgrades since fans were last in Beaver Stadium, including upgrades in the security cameras, emergency evacuation system, natural gas heaters and fire suppression system.
  • The game day traffic pattern will return to the 2019 plan. The one-way traffic pattern will begin four hours prior to kickoff and 8:30 a.m. for noon games. New this year, day of game parking can no longer be purchased at select lots and can only be purchased (cash or credit) at the Innovation Park Building 100 parking lot (subject to availability). Game day parking sales will begin when lots open until sold out or kickoff, whichever comes first. More information on parking and traffic can be found at: https://gopsusports.com/sports/2020/7/30/football-game-day-home.aspx.
  • General parking purchased in advance is $40 per car, while paying to park on game day when arriving to the general lots will cost $60. Fans are encouraged to purchase parking passes in advance to not only realize the savings, but to assist in smoother traffic and parking operations by displaying the pass as they approach roads to stadium parking. Fans can purchase up to three advance single-game parking passes per account, per game.
  • Fans will also see the addition of a 50/50 Raffle during all home games. One lucky fan will win 50% of the funds collected at the game with the proceeds used to support athletic scholarships through the Penn State’s Nittany Lion Club Levi Lamb Fund. Sellers will be located throughout the stadium wearing bright green vests. Ticket sales will conclude in the third quarter and a winner will be announced before the end of the game. The winner does not need to be present to claim their prize. For complete information go to: gopsusports.com/50-50.

Need help getting there? 511PA has you covered: The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is encouraging motorists traveling to Penn State home football games this season to plan their trip using the real-time travel information available online at www.511PA.com/psf.

New in 2019, 511PA includes travel information for every Penn State home football game, beginning with Saturday’s game against Ball State. Throughout the season, travel information will be available beginning the Thursday before each home game through the Monday after.

“Our goal is to help motorists plan ahead by providing them with as much information as possible,” said PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian. “By providing this real-time information, motorists can more easily plan the route that works best for them as they travel to this exciting event.”

The Penn State football page, hosted through the department's 511PA.com traveler information website, is dedicated to monitoring traffic conditions on the primary travel routes to the event. Travel times and alerts are provided for each parking zone: West Zone (access via Atherton Street to Park Avenue); East Zone (access via U.S. 322/I-99 to Park Avenue); North Zone (access via Fox Hollow Road); and South Zone (access via University Drive and Porter Road from College Avenue/U.S. 26).

Users can see incidents, construction, weather forecasts and alerts, traffic cameras, and traffic speeds on the map. The page also includes the 2021 Beaver Stadium Parking Map.

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