Penn State-Ball State Prediction: Is This a Trap?

Yes, Penn State coach James Franklin believes in trap games. But the home-opener shouldn't be one.
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Penn State players back-handspringed their way out of Camp Randall Stadium following a 16-10 win over Wisconsin and aren't far from entertaining Auburn on a Whiteout night at Beaver Stadium.

In between, the No. 11 Nittany Lions host Ball State in a game that appeared more compelling before Week 1. Still, the Cardinals arrive with a confident, experienced roster, and Penn State coach James Franklin confronts one of sports' most notorious distractions: the trap game.

Before predicting the Penn State-Ball State score, let's explore that idea.

No. 11 Penn State (1-0) vs. Ball State (1-0)

  • When: 3:30 pm EST Saturday
  • Where: Beaver Stadium
  • TV: Fox Sports 1
  • Streaming: fuboTV
  • Betting Line: Penn State is a 22.5-point favorite
  • Streaks: Penn State has won 5 straight games; Ball State has won 8 straight

Does Penn State coach James Franklin believe in trap games?

Yes, with conditions. Franklin said this week that he subscribes to the concept of trap games primarily as a byproduct of being unprepared.

"I do believe in trap games if you're sending mixed messages, if you're inconsistent in your approach," Franklin said.

Penn State players hear plenty each year about a certain game (the Whiteout) and about a certain opponent (Ohio State). Franklin seeks to mitigate that drumbeat with his rigorously consistent messaging, which he extends to Twitter. Without that consistency, teams certainly can fall into traps, Franklin said.

"I believe in teams playing inconsistently because they either look forward, look back, get caught up in praise, get caught up in criticism, or don't have the correct amount of respect for the opponent or the process," Franklin said. "So that's why I think you guys know, almost to the point where it's maybe a little crazy, our routine and process is really important to me. That's why we won't talk about anything else but the game at hand."

So, beyond inconsistent messaging, is this game a trap? After all, Ball State is the defending MAC champ with a third-year starting quarterback and a roster that returned 403 career starts in 2021. It's a good team, so maybe this would have been a trap game under pre-2020 circumstances.

But the Lions are playing their first game with fans at Beaver Stadium since November 2019. They're coming off an important win that included plenty of flaws. And they won't have linebacker Ellis Brooks for the first half following a targeting penalty against Wisconsin.

Penn State still has plenty to correct and uncover about itself before hosting Auburn and resuming Big Ten play. Getting to do so against a good MAC opponent should be a benefit rather than a trap.

Penn State Players to Watch

Jesse Luketa: The senior looked rejuvenated in his debut at defensive end. How will he respond to filling Brooks' spot at middle linebacker for the first half?

Eric Wilson: The Harvard transfer, whose 2020 season was canceled, played a significant number of snaps at left guard in the second half after Anthony Whigan started the game. Penn State still is looking for its top player at this position, giving Wilson an opportunity to claim the spot.

Joey Porter Jr.: Ball State has a lively passing game, featuring the FBS' active leader in career receptions. This should be a busy day for Penn State's secondary in general, which might play more five-back sets in response, particularly in Brooks' first-half absence.

Ball State Players to Watch

Drew Plitt: He's one of the better quarterbacks Penn State will see this season. The third-year starter has thrown for 6,698 yards and 52 touchdowns and got off to a fair start last week vs. Western Illinois (17 for 28, 188 yards, 2 TDs).

Justin Hall: Plitt's favorite target, Hall has 265 career receptions, tops among all active FBS receivers. He caught 8 passes for 132 yards and both scores last week. Hall has the nation's longest reception streak (44 games) and needs 182 yards to set Ball State's career record.

Bryce Cosby: The senior free safety has 43 career starts (including 31 straight) and leads a secondary that likely will get a stress test vs. the Lions. He becomes even more important in the potential absence of injured LB Brandon Martin, the MAC co-defensive POY in 2020.

Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr. (Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr. (Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Five Things You Should Know

Penn State is 119-13-1 in home-openers and has won 17 of it last 19.

Ball State is 3-29-1 against current members of the Big Ten. All three victories were against Indiana (in 2008, '11 and '12).

The Cardinals are 1-23 against ranked opponents on the road, having defeated No. 24 Toledo in 2012.

Sean Clifford needs 21 yards passing to become the 10th Penn State quarterback to throw for 5,000.

Penn State is 3-8 in its last 11 games at home against the spread, according to Oddsshark.

Breakdown and Prediction

That Ball State went 7-1, won the MAC last year and returns one of the most experienced rosters in college football is something Franklin can sell to his program. But the Cardinals don't have the athletic ability or depth to hang with Penn State.

This game should provide the Lions with an opportunity to crisp up their offensive play post-Wisconsin. Ball State also runs a 3-4 defensive alignment but doesn't have the size or speed to stop the run and pressure Clifford as Wisconsin did. As a result, Clifford should have more time to hit explosive plays downfield, a spot he needs to improve. Clifford was 5 for 14 on throws of 10 yards or longer against Wisconsin, according to analytics company Sports Info Solutions. That's a stat he'll want to improve.

Should it matter if Ball State scores more points than Wisconsin? Probably not, especially since the Cardinals' passing game might be better. Ultimately, though, this should be a comfortable Penn State victory, setting the stage for a Whiteout night vs. Auburn.

Penn State 38, Ball State 17

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