STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — All the ingredients were in place Saturday night for a Penn State White Out at Beaver Stadium — Halloween, the full moon rising over the east grandstand, Ohio State in the building.
Alas, it was not to be in 2020. Instead of more than 20,000 in the student section, the coronavirus pandemic reduced the visual to maybe a couple of thousand cardboard cutouts. Families of players, coaches, and staff were seated in the stands behind their favorite team’s bench.
Certainly James Franklin misses it, the festive atmosphere, the noise that can affect the opposing team. But as he said, “This is the reality of it.”
“We need to embrace it and be ready for it,” the Nittany Lions head coach said this week. "Our practices will reflect that. Would you love for this community to have a White Out? Would you love for our fan base to have a White Out, and our players and specifically our seniors? Yes. I think it’s one of the things that’s special about college football.
“But again, we’re all so appreciative of the sacrifices and the compromises that were made to allow us to have a season.”
Outside linebacker Jesse Luketa sat out the first half of the game after being ejected for targeting early in the fourth quarter of last week’s overtime loss to Indiana.
An Ohio State web site, Lettermen Row, quoted sources as saying that linebacker Justin Hilliard tested positive for COVID-19 after the Buckeyes arrived Friday in State College but that a second test proved to be negative. Hilliard was not allowed to play but was permitted to be on the sideline with his teammates, the website said.
Luketa’s absence provided redshirt freshman Lance Dixon with his first career start. The 225-pound Dixon, who is 20 pounds heavier than when he signed his letter of intent in December 2018, is making the transition from what Franklin called a “really athletic high school player to a big-time college linebacker.”
“He’s grown in so many different ways,” the coach said. “I think a lot of the specific technical fundamental things of playing linebacker and all the different looks that you have to defend with the offenses that we see and what we’re asking him to do on defense, I think he just continues to grow and build confidence. I see him getting better every single day.”
A Columbus guy in Happy Valley
Defensive tackle Antonio Shelton is from Columbus, Ohio, and has followed Ohio State for most of his life. The fact that he’s a redshirt senior starter at Penn State gave him a unique perspective on Saturday night’s game, but it’s not something he relishes.
“I’m not going to make this game about me,” Shelton said this past week. "I’m not the only guy from Columbus on the team or the only guy from Ohio on the team. So I don’t ever want to make this about me. It’s not really that deep to me.
“This is where I’m at, Penn State. This is where God put me. This is where I was supposed to be. I don’t have any personal vendetta or personal anger towards anybody at that university. My best friend plays on their team. I don’t get into personal things like that.”
Nor does he care to define the Penn State-Ohio State matchup as a rivalry.
“It’s not a rivalry. We’re not Michigan,” he said.
“By me saying that it’s not a rivalry, that’s not me downplaying our opponent, or disrespecting Ohio State in any sort of way, because I’m not. I’m not the type of person to downplay any opponent. That’s not smart. But I don’t necessarily think that this is a rivalry. I think this is two good football teams who are playing each other, and that’s it.”