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Penn State Football: In 2020, Half the Challenge Is Getting Ready for the New Normal

by on October 08, 2020 10:00 AM

Once — in what amounts to a very long time ago — James Franklin and Vanderbilt opened the season facing off against No. 8 South Carolina and then traveled to north Chicago to play Northwestern.

That is objectively a tough way to start the year compared to the usual cupcake opening slate. Two teams, nothing easy, nothing the simple and happy start to the season. Some of that is the product of being Vanderbilt; a lot of it is just how things shook out.

While the comparisons between programs might not hold, Penn State faces a fairly unique opening two weeks going up against Indiana and Ohio State. One team has given the Nittany Lions a run for their money, the other has been a self-explanatory hurdle.

So how do you prepare for Game 1 being far harder than usual? How do you prepare for Week 2 being the biggest game of the year on a schedule that is already shorter than usual?

Well, for one, you get familiar with the atmosphere.

“It is very different,” Franklin said after practice on Wednesday. “And I think there's a lot of things that are different. It's opening with a conference opponent, right from week one, very different from the NFL where you typically would get preseason games. Very different from college where you would typically — not all the time — but typically get out of conference games. And then obviously we also have the stadium.”

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That is really one of the unknowns heading into 2020. Penn State has played great at home over the years. That is well documented. But what happens when there aren’t any fans? Does that edge go away? Penn State has held its own against Ohio State during years that maybe it shouldn’t have thanks to a boost from the crowd, to some degree. Take out 110,000 screaming people all wearing white and suddenly the equation is different. If that's true for Ohio State coming to town, it's true for everyone else as well.

And sometimes that means preparing for silence, instead of noise.

“Obviously, we all know Beaver Stadium with no one in there...so now we're going to start practicing like that,” Franklin said. "We're going to start practicing in Beaver Stadium a little bit more. We're going to start turning the music off, where usually we spend so much time trying to get prepared for crowd noise and things like that. These are all things that you know we're just going to have to get used to kind of the new normal.”

The big challenge of course isn’t so much how you prepare for the lack of noise as it is how you prepare to play your best football right off the bat.

Penn State has spent much of the offseason preparing to hit the field and taking mental reps, but has spent very little time actually doing things in the flesh. The issue here is somewhat obvious: turning what you know in your head to be true into something you can replicate on the field. And oh by the way, you have to do it against Indiana and Ohio State to open the year.

Best of luck.

“We had a lot of time to install it mentally and the guys to digest it and to be able to put it together in their mind but now right comes to the mad race of getting those physical reps,”  tight ends coach Tyler Bowen added.

“It’s one thing to understand it and digest it; it's another thing to be able to go on the field and do it, which is obviously what we're working through.. We definitely had time to install the offense, now it's a matter of going out and executing it physically out on the field and live fire.”

The bad news for Penn State is there isn’t much time left. The good news: nobody else has had more time to do it either.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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