COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — In order for Penn State to pull an upset against No. 13 Ohio State on Saturday night, coach James Franklin feels the Nittany Lions’ 12th man must get in the game.
"We would love to have a huge, home-field advantage," he said of the annual whiteout game. "I anticipate us having 107,000 Penn State fans wearing white, screaming and going crazy, making it really difficult for (Ohio State) to communicate."
Thing is, the Buckeyes don’t seem all that intimidated in an unfriendly environment. They’ve won their last 18 Big Ten games, two off the conference record, with nine on the road. They haven’t lost on an opposing home field since a 40-34 loss at rival Michigan on Nov. 26, 2011.
Accustomed to the eardrum-piercing sounds of a medium-sized city at home games, the Buckeyes say they welcome the noise.
"(The coaches are) trying to talk to us about it so we don’t get nervous," star defensive end Joey Bosa said. "I’ve been talking to everybody all year about, `Oh, Penn State is supposed to be the craziest environment.’ We play in front of 108,000 people every weekend, so it kind of (stinks) when we go away and they don’t have an environment like that."
Whether the crowd is a factor or not, here are some other things to keep an eye on in the game:
DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS: The Nittany Lions (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) have lost their last two games. The Buckeyes (5-1, 2-0) might just be the hottest team at the college level right now, winning four in a row by an average score of 56-17.
They’ve gained in confidence since a home loss to Virginia Tech in Game Two and don’t seem afraid of the Nittany Lions.
"We think we’re better than them and we’re just going to prove that," said tight end Nick Vannett.
UP FRONT: Penn State is hurting on the O-line, where a collection of untested youngsters and overlooked upperclassmen are holding down the fort while Franklin pieces together a team beset by scholarship restrictions and players who left the program.
"We’re working with it," he said. "One of the big challenges right now is you’re trying to get guys confident (who have) little experience."
GRIN AND BARRETT: A lot of Ohio State fans thought the season was toast before it began when QB Braxton Miller, a two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year, was lost for the year with a shoulder injury.
His replacement, J.T. Barrett, has been spectacular. He’s thrown 17 TD passes and run for three more scores in the winning streak — while throwing just one interception and not losing a fumble.
"He’s saved our bacon a few times," coach Urban Meyer said. "You don’t have to (be a 4.3-second 40 runner), which J.T.’s not. But you have to be a tough guy and be willing to go get some yards. He’s done a good job with that."
HACK ATTACK: It’s hard to imagine Penn State (a two-touchdown underdog) winning without a big day from its QB, Christian Hackenberg. He’s run hot and cold in his sophomore season.
"Offensively, (we need to) just make sure we have the right mindset going in," said Hackenberg, who leads the Big Ten in passing yards per game (273).
He’ll probably have to throw some on the run because of the makeshift line.
A YEAR AGO: The Buckeyes administered a whipping to the Nittany Lions in a 63-14 rout in 2014. It was the most points ever surrendered and the most lopsided loss in the program’s 114 years.
Ohio State averaged 8 yards a rush (408 yards on 51 attempts) and totaled 686 yards.
A year later, Penn State leads the nation in defense against the run (61 ypg) and is fifth in scoring defense (15.2 ppg).
"We were basically embarrassed. We got it handed to us on national TV. That wasn’t the Penn State team that I knew that we were," said LB Mike Hull. "We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that doesn’t happen this year. We’re prepared for it and we’ll come out with some juice."