STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Grant Haley didn’t want to commit to calling it a small earthquake, but the Penn State cornerback described Beaver Stadium at its loudest as a place where you can “definitely feel a little rumble on the ground.”
That sure sounds like a small earthquake.
When No. 2-ranked Ohio State comes to Happy Valley this weekend, it will be Penn State’s annual “White Out” game at Beaver Stadium. What was once a student-section initiative eventually became a stadium-wide phenomenon, and a tradition that brings with it a well-earned reputation as one of the loudest crowds in college football.
“We’re going to need the fans. We’re going to need the alumni. We’re going to need everybody for this challenge that we have that we’re facing all together,” Penn State coach James Franklin told the media Tuesday. “We’re going to need the stadium to be the most difficult environment in the history of college football come Saturday night.”
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer joked that he wished Penn State would choose a different opponent for the White Out game, and the memories from two seasons ago probably still linger for some in Columbus. The Buckeyes won the national championship in 2014, but they also spent a Saturday night in late October surviving a scare from Penn State in a 31-24 overtime victory.
Michigan beat Penn State in the White Out game last season, 28-16, but a trip to Beaver Stadium three years ago provided one of the great moments in the program’s recent history. Penn State knocked off No. 18-ranked Michigan, 43-40, in four overtimes.
“It makes you want to come,” said junior safety Marcus Allen, who was in attendance for the 2013 game against the Wolverines. “You want to be part of something like that and achieve something like that. When I was at that game, it really opened up my eyes. The locker room atmosphere was crazy afterwards.”
The importance of this game is two-fold for the Nittany Lions. Penn State has not defeated a ranked team since the final game of the 2013 regular season, a 31-24 win against No. 14 Wisconsin. A win would be huge for Franklin and his staff, a signature moment after 2-1/2 years of trying to keep the program competitive despite NCAA sanctions.
It’s also a big day for the future of the program. There will be dozens of top recruits in attendance, making it one of the most important days of the calendar year on the recruiting front.
Junior tight end Mike Gesicki was another potential recruit at Beaver Stadium when the Nittany Lions toppled the Wolverines in 2013.
“It’s one of, if not the greatest atmosphere in college football. When you talk about the White Out at Penn State, nothing can really compete with that. It’s going to be as loud as it will be all season. It’s going to be as filled and jam packed as it is all season. It’s going to be a very entertaining atmosphere and it can have a very positive impact on recruiting and all of that stuff with people attending the game.
“For myself, that was one of the reasons I came here. Not many other places in the country can compete with the atmosphere Penn State is going to have Saturday night.”
Winning or losing the game won’t necessarily sway recruits to sign with Penn State, but the atmosphere can leave a lasting impression. Haley, a junior, said it’s like having a 12th man on the field, and pointed out the return of Nittanyville, a tent village of nearly 700 students who are camping out all week to get the best seats Saturday night, as a source of pride.
Penn State (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) needs to prove it can be competitive with the best teams in the nation, let alone beat one of them. The Buckeyes (6-0, 3-0) have not lost a true road game since Meyer took over in 2012, but they’ve had a couple of close calls in night games with hostile environments like the one they will face Saturday night.
“I’m going to go to the Quarterback Club on Wednesday like I always do and I’m going to tell them that I hope the Quarterback Club the following week is cancelled because their voices are all gone and they can’t talk,” Franklin said. “That’s the approach we need from everyone in the stadium. It’s no different from everyone in the election. Every vote matters, and it is the same way in the stadium. Every clap, every yell, every scream matters and makes a difference.”