Saturday will produce a familiar scene in Central Pennsylvania.
More than 100,000 people are expected to fill Beaver Stadium, and almost all of them will be dressed in white.
The Penn State “White Out” is one of 21st Century college football’s most recognizable traditions, and a sight that has become downright ordinary to Ohio State by now.
The Buckeyes have been the opponent for three of the 10 all-stadium White Outs, and 2018 will be the fourth consecutive game for which Ohio State has been bestowed that “honor.”
That is only fitting since OSU also had the misfortune of launching the practice into fame by losing the second White Out ever held, a 17-10 upset in 2005 that helped resuscitate coach Joe Paterno’s Penn State program after five losings seasons in the previous six.
That game left little doubt the White Out (which then only included the student section) was here to stay.
“That’s one of the tops in the country,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said this week. “Very loud and the fans are very into it just like our Horseshoe. You’ve got to be ready for that kind of environment.”
But for as well known as the practice is, White Outs are far from a guarantee of victory for Penn State. The Nittany Lions are 5-5 in full-stadium White Outs and 7-7 overall. They are 2-2 against Ohio State with the Buckeyes wining in 2012 and ’14.
Along with the ’05 game, Ohio State also lost its most recent trip to Penn State — a 24-21 upset two years ago that eventually put the Nittany Lions in the Big Ten championship game rather than the Buckeyes.
Here are five more things to know about the game Saturday night between No. 4 Ohio State and No. 9 Penn State:
1. Losing on the road is a bit of an aberration for the Buckeyes.
They are 35-4 away from home since the start of the 2012 season (including neutral-site games), an .871 winning percentage that leads the nation according to the Ohio State sports information department.
Meyer acknowledged he has a new group taking on the challenge this time around, though.
“We have some established guys,” he said. “It’s unique, it’s three receivers and it’s a right tackle. I put (center) Michael Jordan in that category too. On defense we’re still trying to establish some leadership. Dre’Mont Jones has been one of our leaders and Tuf Borland, obviously.
“I mean, it’s essential. You don’t win that game without good leadership.”
2. The engine driving the Penn State offense is Trace McSorley.
The Nittany Lions’ senior quarterback is a true dual-threat, having thrown for 763 yards and eight touchdowns this season while also running for 235 yards and six touchdowns.
Few are better at running the read option, and he has proven to be a tough runner and competitor with a knack for completing deep balls.
“A winner,” Meyer said of McSorley. “A guy that can do it all. And a competitor.”
3. Dwayne Haskins is looking to finish September to remember.
Ohio State’s sophomore quarterback has yet another chance to burnish his reputation by leading the Buckeyes to victory in a hostile environment — one in which predecessor J.T. Barrett had two of his worst games.
This will also provide a test of an Ohio State offense that has been tweaked to showcase Haskins’ powerful arm.
“We knew Dwayne was capable of some things,” Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. “I never thought of us as a run-first or now a pass-first offense — based on the notion you take what’s there.”
4. Will one of the defenses step up?
Ohio State and Penn State have long been known as stout defensive teams, but both units have had rough patches in the first month of the season.
The Nittany Lions gave up 245 yards rushing last week at Illinois two weeks after allowing the same total at Pittsburgh.
“There’s a bunch of new starters but very good, very active front,” Meyer said. “Schematically they’re pretty much the same as they’ve always been. They can rush from both sides of the offense, but they understand their scheme and they have guys who have played a lot in the past.”
They rank 82nd nationally in rushing defense (172.5 yards per game) while Ohio State is 59th (142.2 yp.).
The Buckeyes’ problems have largely stemmed from giving up big plays — including three runs over more than 70 yards — while Penn State will bring a big-play offense into the contest.
5. Special teams often play a big role in these games.
Penn State won the 2016 game thanks to a touchdown scored on a blocked field goal return, and the Nittany Lions put the Buckeyes in a hole to start last year’s contest when Saquon Barkley returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown.
Later a blocked punt helped jump-start Ohio State’s epic comeback in the fourth quarter.
“This week we’re just making sure there is no weak link,” Ohio State punter Drue Chrisman said. “We can’t have something like that happen. We’ve got to find a way to get to their spot. We really think it’s going to come down to that, so we’ve been putting huge emphasis on it this week.”