September 22, 2014

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Ohio State knows how vexing Happy Valley can be

COLUMBUS — Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins will never forget his first White Out.
Besides, it may help him get ready for his second one, coming up Saturday night at Penn State.
The memory is still vivid from two years later: around 21,000 fans in the Nittany Lions student section wearing blindingly white shirts, stomping their feet, roaring until they were hoarse.
Even before the sixth-ranked Buckeyes could warm up for No. 16 Penn State, the Buckeyes knew they were in for a long night.
“The craziest thing was that they had fans lined up from our locker room to the field,” Jenkins said Tuesday, shaking his head at the recollection. “That’s probably the first time — the only time — that’s ever happened. … People cursing you and spitting at you, and things like that.”
One fan singled out Jenkins and reminded him of a punt he’d fumbled several weeks before. Others screamed at the Buckeyes, while others seemed far more threatening.
Tyler Whaley, a backup fullback for the current top-ranked Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten), said it was like running a gauntlet. He said he expects more of the same when Ohio State plays the 24th-ranked Nittany Lions (6-2, 3-2) on
Saturday night.
“They’re going to be right in your face and they’re going to be tempting you,” Whaley said of the Nittany Lions’ feverish fans. “You might get a smack on the helmet or on the back. You have to keep your cool right then and there. You don’t ever want to give your focus up to somebody by the concession stand as you go out to prepare for such a big game.”
Still, getting to the field was the easy part in 2005. Then Ohio State had to play the Nittany Lions and ended up with a 17-10 loss.
This weekend’s game will be the Buckeyes’ fourth night game of the season. Coach Jim Tressel said there are several reasons why fans seem to be more volatile, louder and more jacked up for the football version of Saturday night live.
“I think they make a day of it. They begin their enthusiasm and it just grows,” he said, a smile playing on his lips as he hinted that some fans might be drinking something stronger than root beer to get up for the game. “By 8 o’clock, their enthusiasm is overflowing. Perhaps they sit in the tailgate lots and watch the games and get excited about the competition on TV and all that stuff.”
Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno said the 8 p.m. start wasn’t a big adjustment for his players. But he added that the late start gave fans plenty of time to, uh, get fired up.
“It is not really a big deal,” he said. “It is for the fans. I think the fans, the tailgaters and all that stuff, they tailgate a little longer with 8 o’clock and probably I won’t get into that.”
As novel — and successful — as that first White Out was two years ago, it’s gotten to be almost old hat for the Buckeyes. Purdue tried an alternate version — wearing black (a school color) shirts instead of white — when Ohio State came to town on Oct. 6. The Buckeyes rolled to a 23-7 win.
Iowa tried something similar last season, and the Buckeyes won that one, 38-17.
Maybe the Buckeyes are getting used to it all.
“It was pretty distracting at the beginning of the (Penn State) game,” Jenkins said. “Now we’ve seen so many ‘different-colored-outs’ I don’t think it’ll affect us much.”
Penn State officials are hoping it does. On Friday night, there’ll be a “Rally in the Valley” pep rally. Coach Joe Paterno, members of the football team, the Penn State cheerleaders, Lionettes dance team, the Blue Band, and the Nittany Lion mascot will all be there, stoking the fires.
Twenty-four hours later, Ohio State becomes the first No. 1 team to play in Happy Valley since top-ranked Notre Dame beat Penn State 34-23 in 1989.
That sea of white will be revved up and rearing to go.
Tressel said those who were at State College two years will try to prepare the others for what they’ll see and hear — or not hear.
“It’s loud. There’s no question. If you are expecting to hear, forget it,” he said. “We want to take some of that energy and use it for our benefit. But on the other hand you’ve got to be calm and you’ve got to be poised and you’ve got to keep your focus on the task at hand.”