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Penn State Football: O’Brien Hopes Seniors End His 0-6 Streak at Virginia

by on September 07, 2012 6:00 AM

Penn State coach Bill O’Brien has been saying all week how difficult it will be for his team to play in Virginia’s Scott Stadium on Saturday.

“They’ve got a great home field environment (and) atmosphere,” said O’Brien. “It’s a loud place. Our guys have to be ready for that.”

O’Brien knows whereof he speaks.

In six trips to Charlottesville with three different Atlantic Coast Conference teams in two different months (September and November) over the course of 12 seasons, O’Brien didn’t win once. In fact, his average margin of defeat was by two touchdowns.

(Conversely, in six home games against a visiting Virginia squad while in the ACC, O’Brien’s side won five of six times.)

As an assistant at Georgia Tech, O’Brien lost three times at Virginia – both big (41-14) and small (35-31, 45-38, 39-38). While at Maryland, O’Brien and the Terps fell 16-0. And as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Duke, when current Penn State D-coordinator Ted Roof was head coach, the Blue Devils lost 38-7 in Scott Stadium in 2005.

So he’s not being cavalier when he says playing the Cavaliers on the road isn’t easy.

The last time O’Brien faced Virginia was while at Duke, in 2006. Things didn't go so well, as the Blue Devils lost 37-0 at home in Wallace Wade Stadium. (To make a combined margin of defeat 75-7 over two seasons.)

Of course, the Penn State of today shouldn’t be compared to the Dukies of 2005. Or 2006. Or any year.

O’Brien thinks his large Nittany Lion senior class of over 20 players – including nine players who have already received their degrees – will keep his squad grounded in its first road contest of the year and under O’Brien.

Penn State’s fifth-year players have been on the road at Columbus three times, at Madison twice, at Iowa City twice and at Ann Arbor once.

In addition, Penn State’s past four bowl games have been essentially road contests against geographically advantaged opponents. In 2009, Penn State played Southern California in the Rose Bowl, in ’10 they faced LSU in Florida in the Capital One Bowl, in ’11 they met in-state Florida in the Outback Bowl and in ’12 they met Houston in the TicketCity Bowl.

“We have a group of guys that have been in some hostile environments and know how to react,” O’Brien said. “We’ve got a tough senior class, a mentally tough senior class, so we’ll be leaning on them all year – no matter if it’s home or away.”

Like O’Brien, much of the Penn State coaching staff has been part of a team that has played in Charlottesville. Ron Vanderlinden and Larry Johnson were on the PSU staff in 2001, when the Nittany Lions lost 20-14 on Dec. 1. The game was originally scheduled to be a rare ESPN Thursday night game on Sept. 13, but it was postponed after terrorist attacks rocked the nation.

Other Lion assistants who’ve already been to Scott Stadium include Stan Hixon, Charles London (as both a Duke player and coach), Mac McWhorter and Roof.

However, in addition to the homefield advantage, the Cavalier staff holds another distinct ace in the hole: the 2012 campaign marks its third consecutive season with the entire coaching staff – head coach Mike London and all nine assistants included – intact.

Penn State will be looking for a strong start to the game, in the hopes of taking the Wahoo fans out of the game.

Getting an early jump won’t be easy.

In 2011, Virginia tied with USC for fewest points allowed in the first quarter, 24.

At least it wasn’t zero.

Recent Columns:

Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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