COLUMBUS - There is nothing blissful or joyous about Happy Valley, the environs surrounding State College, home of Penn State and Beaver Stadium.
If you are the visitor to that cauldron of enmity, as No. 1 ranked Ohio State will be this weekend, know that the Nittany Lions that reside there have devoured 19 of the last 20 college football teams that have come calling. The Buckeyes were one of those victims, losing 17-10 here in 2005.
This place is a nest hornets would avoid. It is a dark alley thugs would tiptoe past. It is a den that most well-fanged, large felines would deem too hostile to take up residence.
"The environment is just nuts," defensive back Malcolm Jenkins said yesterday, recalling the last Ohio State game at State College. "Two years ago, they had fans lined up from our locker room all the way out to the field. I had never seen anything like it and haven't since. It really is a hostile environment."
Penn State scheduled a "white out" for that 2005 game, and the snow-blinded and frazzled Buckeyes fumbled three times, gave up five sacks, and suffered an interception. The 21,000-strong student section, whose jumps and gyrations had the iron substructure of the stadium swaying the last time, plans to reprise that effort on Saturday night.
"It is really crazy and it can affect you if you let it," Jenkins said. "With the offense, it can affect the calls, but with the defense that is the environment you want to play in. You want to match the intensity they come at you with."
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel expressed a similar position, hoping to tap into that charged up anticipated crowd of 109,000-plus and pull off an energy transfer of sorts.
"We want to take some of that energy and use it for our benefit," Tressel said. "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, because the only thing tougher than that environment are the guys you're trying to block. And so you've got to understand that that's the task at hand."
Ohio State senior fullback Tyler Whaley made his first road trip as a Buckeye to Penn State for that 2005 loss, and he does not mind going back as the despised and unbeaten top-ranked team.
"It was the first trip I traveled on, so it's really stuck in my mind," Whaley said. "We have to be prepared for the crowd, but we really just have to focus on playing football. We expect loud and crazy fans. It gets me revved up to play. And we get to be the bad guys for once, so that's nice."
Tressel said that all of the stars are aligned to make this a classic confrontation.
When you put two Big Ten teams together, add that they have a rough-and-tumble history, have them play each other on national television, and top it off with the fact the visitor is No. 1 in the country and the host probably thinks it should be, you have the fixings for an explosive few hours of football.
Tressel also thinks playing the game at night allows the maximum tune-up time for fans.
"I think they make a day of it, and you know, they begin their enthusiasm and it just grows, and by 8 o'clock, your enthusiasm is overflowing," Tressel said. "Perhaps they sit in the tailgate lots and watch the games and get excited about the competition on TV and all that stuff. But this is Ohio State and Penn State playing. That in itself is exciting. That will rev up the stadium."
Ohio State, which has not only a No. 1 ranking on the line, but a school record 26-game regular season winning streak and an 18-game Big Ten winning streak that is one shy of the conference record, comes in as the two-time defending champion in the Big Ten.
Those winning streaks started right after that loss here in 2005, in a game played in front of a near hysterical mass of Penn State fans. Tressel hopes the two dozen current Buckeyes who made that trip will help acclimate the rest of the team for this venture into the roiling snake pit that Penn State's home field can become.
"It's loud at Beaver Stadium, and two years ago, it's the most vivid [image] our guys have," Tressel said. "They can remember what a great atmosphere it was, and how difficult it was. Because it's so recent, I think we can grow from it and learn from it."
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