Penn State was left for dead. It sat at 2-2 after being demolished by Michigan on Sept. 24.
Instead of staying down, the Nittany Lions rose. They knocked off Minnesota and Maryland before heading into last week’s bye.
Having failed its first major test, a 49-10 drubbing in Ann Arbor, PSU again is presented with an opportunity to make noise on a national stage. No. 2 Ohio State comes to Beaver Stadium on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ABC) for a primetime tilt on national TV.
The stakes are high for a former college football power that’s fallen from those ranks. A White Out crowd of 107,282 will be waiting to witness the spectacle.
Vegas doesn’t give the Nittany Lions much of a chance. They’re almost a three-touchdown home underdog, something unheard of during much of the program’s history.
It won’t matter when things kick off Saturday night.
“They put their pads on the same way,” PSU wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton told reporters in State College this week. “They might be held to a higher standard, but they are still football players, and we’ve got to go out and we are just going to give it our best shot. We are not going to do anything different just because they are the No. 2 team.”
The Lions never gave themselves a chance at Michigan. They trailed 14-0 after one quarter and 28-0 at the break. They lost time of possession, 35:49-24:11, allowed the Wolverines to convert 11 of 16 third-down opportunities, and yielded six sacks.
Ohio State is capable of administering the same knot on PSU’s head if it comes out flat. A blowout loss will cancel out the perception that the Lions have progressed since being walloped by Michigan.
“You don’t want that feeling again. Regardless of how good they were, we know how good we are,” Hamilton said. “Like I said before, they are just another football team and they are not anything special. They just happen to be who we are playing on Saturday and that’s what we’ve got to treat it like.”
While that’s the right mindset for Hamilton and his teammates, the Buckeyes are pretty special. They’re outscoring opponents by an average score of 49.3-12.8. They’re loaded with talent all over the field.
Ohio State won last year’s meeting, 38-10. The Buckeyes have captured four in a row in this series and the last four contests in State College.
“Our focus this week is going to be on preparing really hard and practicing really hard so we can go out and play loose and confident on Saturday,” Penn State coach James Franklin told media in State College earlier this week. “I don’t know if we necessarily did that against Michigan.”
“I think we’re in a little bit different position right now, and all these experiences and all of these games, you learn something from. Whether you learn something from a loss or whether you learn something from a win; in life, just like the game of football, all those things are positive if handled the right way. And our guys, I think have really grown up from that.”
Unlike having to play against a hostile crowd at Michigan Stadium, the Nittany Lions will receive the backing of their faithful Saturday. The White Out tradition ranks as one of the more impressive environments in college football.
“The White Out is one of the reasons why you come to Penn State, just seeing that atmosphere, seeing how electrifying it is,” cornerback Grant Haley said. “It just shows how much Penn State fans just love us and just support us through anything. Just coming out there on Saturday, under the lights and just seeing it all white, it’s just a scene that you can’t really put in words. I think that’s just an extra, extra thing for us.”
These fans are hungry for a big win. Their team last defeated a Top-4 squad in 1999, a 41-7 victory against No. 4 Arizona in the season-opener. It’s 0-11 since then in matchups with Top-4 opponents.
Penn State is scoring 30.5 points a game this season. However, it’s allowing an uncharacteristic 28.5. It faces a dynamic Buckeye attack led by quarterback J.T. Barrett.
Haley said it’s the best offense the Lions have seen this season.
“I think we need to make them a one-dimensional team,” he said. “We obviously need to stop the run, the quarterback run especially, and also running backs back there, Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel, just make them beat us through the air. If we can make them a one-dimensional team, it makes our chances of winning more successful.”
During this election season, Franklin is hoping his fans approach this game like they’re supporting their favorite candidate.
“We need everybody in the stadium screaming and hollering. It’s no different than the election; every vote matters. And it’s the same way in the stadium: Every clap, every yell, every scream matters. It makes a difference. All 107,000 people are going to make a difference on Saturday,” he said.