STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Walking inside Beaver Stadium, Villanova’s football players played it about as cool as you’d expect, mostly.
“This is nuts,” one player said walking down the tunnel to the field. “My God, this is nuts.”
“This is impressive,’’ another said.
“I think it echoes,” said a guy looking up and around from the sideline at midfield.
Many of them turned their phones to video mode and scanned around the place. Even Villanova head coach Mark Ferrante did that with his phone, first thing.
“Yeah, why not?” Ferrante said of getting a little memento.
It used to be, Ferrante had said, teams always got into an opposing stadium the day before for a walkthrough, but that tradition has faded. For this one, Ferrante wanted it restored. He didn’t want his players walking into the second-largest stadium in college football Saturday two hours before game time with their phones out, trying to get a selfie.
“Bigger than any NFL stadium,’’ one player said to another.
They took about 20 minutes to stroll the perimeter of the field. Someone pointed to the upper deck of one end zone, where the visiting section would be.
“Hey Mom!” a player yelled, mimicking like he was futilely waving up to that section. “Mom! Heeeeyyyyy!”
Defensive end Malik Fisher, a Villanova captain, knelt in front of a television camera on the sideline, acting like it was on and trained on him. In fact, it was on, teammate Darius Pickett told him.
“You learn the game is the game,” Fisher said of being inside Beaver Stadium. “Beyond the names and the numbers and the stadiums. The schemes are the same.”
He’d been here before, Fisher said, a White Out game against Michigan, Saquon Barkley doing his thing. Fisher had a friend who was a Penn State student, not on the football team. He’d had an off week at ‘Nova, so he came up and sat in the student section, pointing up to where he’d been.
“Now, I’m going to play,” Fisher said, laughing at how life works.
Villanova gets paid by Penn State for this one, but not to be a designated patsy. The Wildcats are ranked seventh by the coaches in FCS, which isn’t quite the same as Penn State being ranked sixth in FBS, but easily enough to make them believe in themselves.
(Hey, Villanova has beaten a ranked team before … No. 18 Detroit Mercy, 1937.)
Yes, we’ll see Saturday how large or small the differences are between levels. The last time Villanova went to an FBS opponent, it was Temple in 2018 at the Linc. The Wildcats took that one.
The biggest difference is the reason Ferrante had leaf blowers running right behind his offense during practice, trying to simulate the crazy decibels of a place where last Saturday, for the Auburn White Out game, Penn State had 109,958 inside. All of Villanova’s other road opponents this season combine for 81,400.
They kind of liked that there was no track like at home, that the crowd would be right on top of them, practically able to reach out.
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After what Ferrante termed an “instant classic” last week against Richmond, scoring three times in the last 5 minutes and 1 second for a one-TD victory, Villanova’s coach simply is asking for more of the same.
“Third game in a row where everybody kind of did their part,” Ferrante said of reaching 3-0.
What will it take to hit 4-0? Ferrante talked about what underdogs talk about, committing the least number of mistakes, hopefully getting some turnovers, not giving any away.
“It’s going to take some breaks along the way,” Ferrante said. “We’ve got to be almost flawless in our execution. They’re big, they’re fast, they’re athletic. They’re a really good team. They’re probably the best team I can remember facing, and we’ve played West Virginia and Maryland and all that. We’ll probably need to slow the tempo down a little bit to minimize possessions, and then take advantage of scoring opportunities.”
He gives his guys maybe one advantage in the intangible department.
“All the high school kids, they want to be recruited by FBS [schools], then they find their level,” Ferrante said. “When they have the opportunity to play against that level, they have a little chip on their shoulder.”
At this week’s area football luncheon, another coach asked if Ferrante was going to bring a tape measure, Hoosiers style. Ferrante joked he would tell his guys, “Look, this is a 100-yard field.”
When it was time to go, Ferrante whistled and yelled HELLO, easily heard all around the place. His guys started walking out. The head coach asked a staffer if he’d timed the walk from the bus to the locker room. Two minutes, he was told. Back to the buses they all went, although they don’t usually get a police escort over to the hotel at Maine or New Hampshire.
Another difference: Saturday, this place will be full.
“When the game starts,” Ferrante said, “I won’t even hear behind me.”
The visit seemed to have served its purpose.
“It looks bigger on TV,” a Villanova lineman said.