Simulated crowd noise, accompanied by the famous song “Zombie Nation,” could be heard bellowing from the Woody Hayes Athletic Center as the Ohio State football team wrapped up practice Wednesday evening.
The Buckeyes, who have not played a true road game in front of more than 52,000 people this season, are set to play a game in front of what most are expecting to be a sellout crowd of more than 106,000 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pa., Saturday night.
OSU coach Urban Meyer said Wednesday that the simulated crowd noise is one of the things the Buckeyes are doing to prepare for the traditionally hostile crowd.
“This is one of those ones that is one of the top 10, really top five in the country places,” Meyer said. “It is hard to get ready for this one but we have had some good practices and the one thing about our setup out here (is) we can get some noise pumped in pretty good.”
The last time OSU played at Penn State, it came away with a 35-23 victory, and redshirt-junior tight end Nick Vannett said Wednesday that experience is something that stuck with him.
“That’s as loud of a stadium I’ve ever heard. That’s probably the loudest stadium I have ever played in honestly,” Vannett said. “The white everywhere, it can get a little distracting, but as a team, we are going to go in focused and we have an objective and we are going to come out and hopefully beat them.”
With such a loud environment, Meyer said communication will be key for his team, especially on the offensive line.
“During a play — making sure the five guys hear you and (eliminating) the silly penalties. A lot of times it (the cadence) goes on the center,” Meyer said. “We have been decent about it but you have seen sometimes it looks like a circus out there.”
The last time the Buckeyes played on the road, they committed seven penalties, costing them 66 yards in a 52-24 victory against Maryland. Among those penalties was a false start, an illegal motion and two delay of game penalties.
Redshirt-sophomore offensive lineman Pat Elflein echoed his coach’s comments and added that he believes the Buckeye offense can be effective in spite of the atmosphere if they can excel in one particular aspect.
“Communication. Identifying what they are doing, and communicating it to all the guys on the line,” Elflein said. “That’s going to be the key is communicating in that hostile environment. If we can do that, we will have a successful day.”
Elflein said the offensive line has worked hard this week on preparing for the crowd noise, including new ways of communicating if the environment causes too many issues.
One of those things being the addition of hand signals, something Elflein said has been an adjustment.
“We have got different procedures in case we can’t hear that we have been practicing,” Elflein said. “We practice the verbal (signals) from camp and so this week is just different getting adjusted to (new ones) and (if) we can adjust we will be fine.”
The Buckeye offense will be playing against more than just the crowd noise Saturday as the Nittany Lions boast the top rushing defense in the country, allowing just 60.83 yards per game on the ground.
In contrast, the OSU offense ranks 17th in the country in rushing, averaging 259.83 yards per game, including racking up 324 yards on the ground against Rutgers last week.
Despite the stifling Nittany Lion defense, Vannett said the Buckeye offense isn’t intimidated.
“They are very athletic. It’s the Big Ten so everyone is going to have good players, especially them,” Vannett said. “We are not going to change who we are either. It doesn’t matter if we are playing Penn State or some other team. We are going to go in, coming out fast like we always have and come back with a win.”
The Nittany Lion defense also has allowed just seven red zone touchdowns this season on 19 trips for opponents. Only one of those touchdowns has been by way of a pass, something Vannett said he was not aware of.
“I actually didn’t know that,” he said. “But I am sure that will change this coming up Saturday.”
The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions are scheduled to kick off at 8 p.m. at Beaver Stadium.