The authority for sports coverage in the Fredericksburg region.
College Football: Lions expect no boos, but no quarter
WHILE U.VA.’S PLAYERS, FANS WON’T HARP
ON TROUBLE AT PENN STATE, THEY STILL
WANT TO WIN
ON TROUBLE AT PENN STATE, THEY STILL
WANT TO WIN
BY TAFT COGHILL JR.
CHARLOTTESVILLE—Penn State opened its 2012 season at home on Saturday in front of a friendly crowd of 97,186.
More than 600 former Penn State athletes took the field before its 24–14 loss to Ohio University, to show support for the embattled program.
PENN STATE (0–1) at VIRGINIA (1–0)
WHEN: Saturday, noon
WHERE: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville
TV: ABC (channels 7, 8)
RADIO: WGRQ–FM 95.9
There were signs of encouragement throughout Beaver Stadium. The result of the game was the only thing that dampened the mood.
The Nittany Lions (0–1) aren’t expecting a similar reaction on Saturday when they visit Virginia (1–0) at Scott Stadium at noon.
It’s the first road contest for the program since the Freeh Report was released in July and the NCAA hit the Nittany Lions with major sanctions as the result of the child sex abuse scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
“We’ve said since day one when all this stuff broke out that road games are going to be pretty brutal for us,” Penn State senior fullback Michael Zordich said yesterday. “And that’s just something you have to deal with.”
Virginia’s home field hasn’t exactly been noted for hostile crowds.
But even without everything swirling around Penn State, this game would’ve been an attention-grabber for Cavaliers fans.
The contest will be broadcast on national television, and Penn State is one of the most recognizable programs in the nation.
Virginia junior defensive end Jake Snyder said he never envisioned playing the Nittany Lions with the Cavaliers being the favorite, and having to respond to questions about underestimating them.
“It’s interesting. It’s not really something I would’ve expected,” Snyder said. “But things happen.”
Snyder said he doesn’t anticipate Virginia fans reacting negatively to Penn State, because “they’re classy and there is no reason they would say anything nasty or different than they would say to any other team.”
Zordich said that at this point, it will take more than a few rowdy fans to fracture the Nittany Lions.
“After everything we’ve been through,” Zordich said, “I don’t see much tearing us apart as a team.”
Snyder said Penn State’s remaining players should be lauded for the loyalty they’ve showed.
Nine players transferred as the NCAA allowed them to do so freely because of the scandal.
Penn State also suffered a reduction of 40 scholarships over the next few years, and isn’t allowed to play in a bowl game for four seasons.
“I know there were some pretty harsh penalties, but more than anything it’s pretty honorable what they’ve done,” Snyder said. “With those sanctions, the NCAA made it pretty obvious they can get out, go to a different school and play with no hesitation. But those guys stuck with the school they love, and that’s something that’s pretty awesome.”
While Snyder said what happened at Penn State is a “tragedy,” Virginia senior left tackle Oday Aboushi didn’t follow the story. Aboushi said he “could care less,” because it didn’t involve him or the Virginia program.
Cavaliers coach Mike London was certainly aware. London was free to poach Penn State’s players, but said he didn’t actively recruit them. No Penn State players transferred to Virginia, but the Cavaliers received an oral commitment last month from Zach Bradshaw, a senior linebacker from Maryland, who previously committed to the Nittany Lions.
“When it came out that the opportunity was going to be extended to those players [to transfer], I heard from other coaching friends that they were on the next flight to Happy Valley,” London said. “And you hear stories about coaches walking around [Penn State’s] campus with their school logos on, and it was kind of like an open market. We didn’t approach it that way.”
London said he empathizes with Penn State first-year head coach Bill O’Brien because his current players are free to leave through next August.
“I couldn’t imagine having to deal with that, and keeping the guys loyal, keeping the guys wanting to come to the school, keeping the guys, the freshmen and sophomores, that are already on the team that will be impacted by this,” London said. “He’s probably got a tough job.”
O’Brien has pulled out all the stops to motivate his team. He’s calling his walk-on players “run-ons,” because “they bust their butt on the field.” He calls his scout team the “Dirty Show” to keep those players engaged in the program.
O’Brien said he’s looking forward to his first road game as head coach, because all of the attention at home can be a distraction.
He said he’s going to rely on seniors like Zordich to keep the team afloat at Virginia.
“It’s a great home-field advantage for Virginia,” said O’Brien, who has visited Charlottesville as an assistant at Georgia Tech, Duke and Maryland. “We’ve got to do a great job this week of practicing with the crowd noise. That’s the biggest thing—not what they’re yelling, but how loud they’re yelling.”
Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526