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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Go behind the scenes with Penn State Athletics on football gameday for exclusive interviews and a closer look at team arrival, Nittany Lion honorary captains, special recognitions and more.
Team Arrival in a Penn State White Out Crowd
Penn State football pulled up just after 5:30 p.m. greeted by a Penn State White Out crowd and Nittanyville campers before heading into Beaver Stadium. Follow the Nittany Lions as they make their way into the stadium.
Current NFL Network broadcaster and founder of the Excel to Excellence Foundation, Nittany Lion standout Michael Robinson is this evening's honorary captain. The 2005 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year guided the Nittany Lions to the 2005 Big Ten Championship and an overtime win in the 2006 Orange Bowl.
Undefeated 1986 National
Championship Penn State Football Team Returns
Penn State's undefeated 1986 national championship team returned to Beaver Stadium for a special recognition. The 1986 season was capped by Penn State's dramatic 14-10 victory over No. 1 Miami in the Fiesta Bowl.
Hear from former Nittany Lion running back DJ. Dozier on what it means to be back in Happy Valley.
The 1986 team produced many Penn State household names, including team captains Shane Conlan, John Shaffer, Bob White and Steve Smith. The squad also produced four All-Americans, as linebacker Conlan, tackle Chris Conlin, Dozier and defensive tackle Tim Johnson all were honored. Conlan, who made two interceptions in the title win over Miami, was a two-time first-team All-American.
Back from a restful bye week, the Nittany Lions (4-2, 2-1) are recharged and ready for a Penn State White Out, squaring off against the Buckeyes (6-0, 3-0) in a Big Ten East matchup set to broadcast live on ABC at 8 p.m.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State Football and No. 2 Ohio State are set for a Big Ten East matchup Saturday at 8 p.m. in Beaver Stadium.
Lion offensive line coach Matt Limegrover spent time with the media Thursday
ahead of the Penn State White Out. Check out updates from the Q&A below.
Can you talk about where the offensive line has made the most progress in the last few weeks?
Limegrover: "I think probably the biggest thing is that we were able to solidify a group of five guys. I think one of the biggest things with any offensive line is the chemistry and the cohesion and I think getting Connor McGovern settled in at right guard, obviously Brian Gaia at center, Ryan Bates has started every game at left guard and our two tackles. Unfortunately, Andrew Nelson getting hurt kind of disrupted that continuity. The communication was getting better, the understanding. There's so much that goes into as as far as getting a feel for how the other guys around you play the game and I felt like we were really getting into a good place with that."
How do you make the decision between Brendan Mahon at right tackle or left tackle going into the week and what does that mean for the other guys who are competing to spell Andrew's [Nelson] position?
Limegrover: "The biggest thing is and I guess the nice luxury that I have is having a guy like Paris Palmer who has started in some games and started some big football games at Penn State. He feels really comfortable at left tackle. When Andrew [Nelson] went down Brendan Mahon didn't skip a beat and looked at me and said, hey I can move over, no problem. With Brendan playing the different positions, I love the kid because he loves the game of football and he understands it and he gets it. That transition was a lot smoother than one would expect, just because of Brendan's willingness to both play the position and the fact that he had played right tackle in the past and being able to get a guy who has a decent amount of experience in Paris Palmer in at left tackle."
Can you talk about the development of Will Fries and how far he has come since he has arrived?
Limegrover: "There is that chance. I think what's happening with Will is that he did a really good job of preparing himself and not just as far as weightlifting and conditioning, as a lot of guys do before getting here. He worked quite a bit after his senior year leading up to coming here with a gentleman who specializes in working with offensive and defensive linemen. I think that helped his transition quite a bit because Will was a guy who was going against college guys who would come back in the summer. I think that helped his initial development so that it wasn't as big of a shock to his system. Even with that being said, there's still a difference speed-wise and what your knowledge base needs to be. I think early on that kind of caught Will a little bit, but he has been able to get back and in practice, we've been able to give him some quality reps to help that process along. I feel a lot more comfortable with him than I was week one and there's still a long way to go but I think just him coming to work everyday, putting his time in and being an attentive student - he listens to every word the older guys have said, who have been through it and I think that's huge for him."
We've talked a lot over the last few years about training flexibility up front and the need to cross train some of these linemen. What's your philosophy on that and how do you balance the need to have a guy at one spot and then having him move around?
Limegrover: "I think it's kind of a two-part answer from the standpoint that I am also a believer in having flexibility. The very first thing I told the offensive linemen when I first met with them is that the best five are going to play. If that means that a guy who is playing guard is the next best on the team, then you have to find a way to make that work. There is an element of cross training, but I also believe that you can do it.
Guys need to concentrate on a position and my thought is that what ends up happening is that you find that group of guys who are going to be your starters and eventually you can settle in on that. Then what you try and do is you try and find, if you have five more guys who are the very best at the position that they are playing, then you feel pretty good. Usually the way it happens in any program is that you may have two or three additional guys. You're lucky if you have seven guys or eight guys you feel really good about and those are the guys who you would like to start cross training and that's what you try and do to help build that quality depth so if somebody goes down you have the next man up mentality. I'm not against the idea of cross training but I think again, you don't want to do that at the expense of letting a guy get really comfortable and really feel good and be accomplished at the position you have him slotted at."
What have you seen on film from Ohio State as far as specifics on their front seven? Losing their starting defensive tackle for the season, is interior defense an area you think is a weakness?
Limegrover: "In all honestly, when you're the No. 2 team in the country, weakness is a relative term. I think they can trot out a lot of good football players. One of the biggest things is that if they lose a guy and the next one comes in, you just say, okay, I don't even know that they have lost a step. They do a good job putting their personnel in spots. to succeed. They are a team where if you get into third-and-long, they are going to take some back up defensive ends who are really good pass rushers and they are going to move them inside and create a lot of movement and disruption in there on third downs. They've got some big space eaters there in first and second time. It kind of gives you a look at what pro teams are trying to do when they can mold their lineup in terms of getting their guys on the field that really fit the situation. If you're a team that is going to run the ball first and second down, you have those build dudes on the inside you have your defensive ends who can play the run and then all of the sudden you get to third down and you have four defensive ends in there trying to pin their ears back and get to the quarterback. So from a front standpoint, I think that's the way you like having it and I think that provides a tremendous challenge for us."
"I don't know if there is a better linebacker in the country, from my opinion, than RaeKwon McMillan. I don't want to say I have had the pleasure, it has been kind of my personal nightmare, but this will be the third time I have seen Ohio State and watched them play. RaeKwon McMillan is one of those guys who really makes them go on defense and he was last year as well and even the year before. He is just a guy who goes and it all builds around him. It's a formidable challenge and I think they are just as good in everything they do and they do it differently but I think they are every bit as good as Michigan from a front seven standpoint."
Taking it back a few weeks here, with the Minnesota win where players were saying they wanted to win that game for you, what was that like for you?
Limegrover: "It was really a highlight for me, just personally, career-wise. As that game was going on, I had a chance to share my story with the team. So the guys had some perspective of where I was coming from and it wasn't anything bad, but it was just a matter of, I wanted to let them know, what had happened and how appreciative and grateful I feel about being at Penn State. A lot of the guys, I think it struck a cord with them and it was really an amazing thing and you're in that game and initially things weren't going as we had hoped, but there was that constant, steady climb. Guys were coming up to me and not even the offensive linemen, but it was secondary guys, it was wide receivers, saying hey coach, we're going to get this one for you, we're going to get this one. It really made me feel good. It was like, okay, this is something that's pretty special. Then obviously to win the game the way that we did, the guys gave me the game ball afterward. It was one of those things as far as a personal highlight for me, but in tern I felt great for the guys. I really loved to see the group of guys that we have fight back and fight through some adversity and continue to move forward and that's the message that I gave them. I thanked them and then I also told them how proud I was to be part of this staff and watching them never give up and continuing to fight. It was a pretty special day all the way around.
With Andrew Nelson going out like that, what is the emotional response from the o-line or the people who had to step in and take his place?
"You know what's interesting, I think that a lot of things that happen throughout a football game, when you take a step back and look at it from a detached standpoint, there is an emotional response to it. I'll be honest with you, in the middle of the game when that happened, there wasn't a single woe-is-me, there wasn't anyone looking around going oh darn or whatever you want to say. It was here's the mission - Brendan [Mahon], you go to right tackle, Paris, we talk about next man up and to their credit, those guys stayed in the game and continued to fight. Was it emotional after the game, Andrew Nelson, he's one of those guys who could have easily been one of our offensive captains if it wasn't for Brian [Gaia]. He is that type of guy and that type of mentor to the younger guys, that kind of solid voice in the offensive line room. So it hit the guys pretty hard after, but in the moment they just stayed right on point and continued to fire away and then after we sort of got through the grieving process as a group and then I don't want to say fortunately, that's a bad way to put it, but we had the off week so we worked through that as we started to get into Ohio State that reality had sunk in. Then as tough as that reality was, we realized we had to move forward and I think that off week was probably good mentality for the guys in my room."
By Arielle Sargent, Penn State
Originally from a small town on the water positioned midway between the south side of Baltimore and Annapolis, Pasadena, Maryland native Brian Gaia grew up setting crabbing trotlines as a summer job with his friends.
When not on the water boating with his family, Gaia and his father Tim, could often be found in the garage working on cars - customizing vehicles to be exact. Recalling days when Brian was up to his elbows covered in grease, the garage was place where Tim Gaia and his son were more like best friends rather than father and son.
That's until Penn State came along, because when Brian Gaia received an offer from Penn State, it didn't take long for him to make up his mind.
For Gaia though, it's not how his Penn State experience begins or even where it's at today that makes it special. Rather, it's about the journey and those who were with him along the way.
A two-time team captain at the Gilman School, a private all boys school in Baltimore, Gaia helped guide his high school team to three Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association Class A titles.
Gaia was the first freshman on the football team to start at Gilman in nearly 65 years, while also closing out his high school career with three all-state selections.
"We had a lot of talent on our team," Gaia said. "We had like 10 Division one kids on our team my senior year. It was great to be surrounded by a lot of talent."
With talent abound, his performances on the football field started to attract the eyes of collegiate head coaches.
Gaia was not one for the recruiting process though, as the Gilman School was located more than an hour away from his home in Pasadena. The long commute started early in the morning and usually wrapped up late in the evening after football practice, leaving little time for extras.
"I didn't get home until 9:30 or 10 every night and coaches wanted to talk but I still had three hours of homework to do and then I had to wake up again at five in the morning," Gaia said.
Although the Gilman School expectations and requirements were high, Gaia proved that he was just as good on the field as he was in the classroom.
"There were times where I would get up and look down the hall and Brian's bedroom door was closed at 1:30 or two in the morning and I would pop my head in thinking he went to bed and left the light on, but oh no, he was at his desk working," Tim Gaia said.
It wasn't long before former Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson delivered his best pitch to Brian.
"When he was at Penn State, he pulled me in and showed me what I could do and how good I could be. He really sold the Penn State dream," Gaia said.
Inspired by a dream that combines a tradition of excellence in both athletics and academics, Brian Gaia committed to Penn State early in his junior year on an evening his father remembers well.
"He sat down and said, 'I made my decision,' Tim said. "He said, 'I'm going to Penn State. Penn State has always been my decision' and he didn't want to continue thinking about it."
Prior to Brian's freshman season in 2012, Bill O'Brien was named Penn State Football's head coach. Despite the unexpected coaching change, Gaia did not change his commitment and neither did Penn State.
In 2012, Gaia spent a year on the scout team, taking a redshirt year before playing in all 12 games at defensive tackle and on special teams in 2013. He made five tackles in a non-conference outing against Eastern Michigan and saw significant time in the thrilling quadruple-overtime game against Michigan, making one tackle. Gaia also excelled in the classroom, earning Academic All-Big Ten honors during the year.
Just as he was settling into his role on the defensive line, Penn State announced that O'Brien had accepted a head coaching position with the Houston Texans. The Nittany Lions later named James Franklin the program's 16th head coach in January 2014.
Once again, Gaia did not change his commitment as he remained steadfast in his decision to continue pursuing the Penn State dream.
There were still more changes though, as Gaia received a call from Franklin just outside the Maryland state line while he was on his way home during break shortly before spring practice.
"I thought I did something wrong, but I couldn't think of anything I did wrong so I picked up the phone and I said hello and Coach Franklin asked me what I thought about moving to offense."
With a team first mentality, Gaia agreed to the move without hesitation. Willing to help the team in any way he possibly could. A response that came as no surprise to his father.
Unsure if he was officially moved to offense or set to remain on defense, Gaia returned to campus for spring football and sat down in the defensive line area.
"Coach looked at me and said, 'what are you doing over there, you're on offense' and from there, that's how I figured it out," Gaia said.
Switching from defensive tackle to right guard was no easy task though, as Gaia remembers the first few memories of the transition being absolutely terrible.
"I thought I knew what I was doing, but I just had no clue," Gaia said.
Not one to shy away from a challenge, Gaia took it in stride earning the Red Worrell Award presented to the offense's most improved player following spring practice in 2014. He started all 12 games at right guard during the 2014 season, finding success helping protect quarterback Christian Hackenberg and blocking for running backs in Bill Belton, Akeel Lynch and Zach Zwinak. He also earned Academic All-Big Ten honors for the second consecutive season.
More changes were ahead for Gaia though, as the 2016 spring football season brought another challenge as he moved once again, but this time from right guard to center.
It's widely regarded that one of the most important relationships a quarterback can have on the field is with his center, a relationship that Gaia and Nittany Lions signal caller Trace McSorley have fully embraced.
At six feet-three inches and 295 pounds, Gaia worked tirelessly throughout the summer, preseason and into the 2016 campaign, growing into the added responsibility of the position.
"The hardest part is learning how to snap and block at the same time and I'm still learning about that through every game," Gaia said.
Committed to working as hard as possible to get the job done, Gaia has not been alone in journey, relying on the steady relationship with his father throughout the entire process.
"Brian had every opportunity to walk away from it, but it shows the kind of man that he is, he stuck with it and he didn't give up," Tim said.
Speaking daily on the phone, conversations between Tim and Brian are sometimes about football, but often mostly about life, with even a little bit of talk about cars.
"When Brian was going through all the changes, I just told him, 'Brian you're going to be as good as you're going to be and that's on you.' I don't want you to be a superstar, I just want you to be as good as you can be."
Now a leader on the field as one of three team captains, Brian has taken command of the offensive line, teaching and guiding the younger members of the line, in the spirit of the same tradition he experienced coming through the program.
It hasn't been all smooth sailing though as Gaia and the Nittany Lions endured their first Big Ten setback on the road against nationally ranked Michigan in the early part of the conference schedule.
After the game, Brian sent a text message to his father. One Tim said he'll never forget.
It read, "Dad I'm not a superstar, but today I did the very best I could do for my team."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Fresh off the bye week, Penn State Football is set to return to Beaver Stadium, hosting No. 2 Ohio State Saturday.
Head coach James Franklin met with members of the media Tuesday to preview the upcoming Penn State White Out, while also giving an update on progress throughout the week off from competition.
Penn State (4-2, 2-1 East) and Ohio State (6-0, 3-0 East) will meet for the 32nd time in program history, squaring off under the lights at 8 p.m. on ABC.
Franklin opened his press conference noting that the Nittany Lions are rested both physically and emotionally after the bye week, but looking forward to the challenge as the Buckeyes head to Beaver Stadium for the 13th time in program history.
"We have been talking to them all week about preparing hard and working hard and then playing loose," Franklin said. "Do everything you possibly can all week long so you can go out and play loose, and you can go out and play confident and have fun and take advantage of one of the better environments in college football that will take place in Beaver Stadium on Saturday."
CJF: "We're looking for Beaver Stadium to be the most difficult environment in college football history on Saturday." #PSUwhiteout-- Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) October 18, 2016
With Ohio State presenting strength and talent at nearly every position on the field, Franklin also called on the support of Nittany Lion fans.
"We need everybody in the stadium screaming and hollering," Franklin said. "It's no different than the election; every vote matters. It's the same way in the stadium: every clap, every yell, every scream matters. It makes a difference."
For Franklin, keys to success against a challenging Ohio State team include limiting signature Buckeye explosive plays, while also continuing to remain disciplined in avoiding costly penalties. As always, Franklin stressed that the games Penn State has seen success in this year have all come in limiting turnovers and protecting the football.
"The margin of error against these types of teams is too small," Franklin said. "So you have to play well. That's what we plan on doing again on Saturday."
On the Quote Board -
- Not only did Franklin note that Penn State need to limit Ohio State explosive plays, but he also included how key the ability is in terms of success on the field. Penn State's seven plays for 50-plus yards on the year currently ranks 13th nationally according to cfbstats.com.
"I think last week, if you look at the Maryland game, we had 15 explosive plays on offense and our defense gave up four. So when you win the turnover battle and you win the explosive play battle, you've got a chance to be successful; and, like I mentioned before, keep the crowd involved."
- Wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton on his first Penn State White Out experience.
"The very first White Out was when I was a freshman, like the redshirt year that I took, when Penn State played Michigan. We obviously know what happened that game. So that was probably my first one and that was probably the best one, the best college football game that I've ever been a part of and I've ever seen, live and up close and personal.
- Cornerback Grant Haley on the key to success against Ohio State.
"I think we need to make them a one-dimensional team. We obviously need to stop the run, the quarterback run especially, and also running backs back there, Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel, just make them beat us through the air. If we can make them a one-dimensional team, it makes our chances of winning more successful."
- Haley also likened the Penn State White Out crowd to a 12th man on the field, noting that he can feel the ground shaking when the crowd is loudest.
"Just having some of the best fans in the country coming in and supporting you day-in and day-out, I think that just gives us pride playing for your university. Everything we do is just to make them proud."
- Franklin's thoughts on what the Penn State White Out embodies.
"I think the White Out exemplifies what this place is all about. It's about our community coming together, the fans, the professors, our alumni and our players and going into that stadium and having fun together and representing Penn State the right way. It's special. There's no doubt about it."
By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Back from a bye week the Nittany Lions are set to return for a quintessential Penn State White Out under the lights, hosting No. 2 Ohio State at 8 p.m. Saturday on ABC.
Penn State's White Out will be its ninth in program history encompassing the entire stadium, as the Nittany Lions have hosted a Penn State White Out among students or full stadium in each of the last 12 seasons. The Nittany Lions hosted their first student White Out Oct. 9, 2004 against Purdue, before going stadium wide for the first time against Notre Dame Sept. 8, 2007.
Penn State White Out History
Oct. 9, 2004 vs. Purdue (student section)
Oct. 8, 2005 vs. Ohio State (student section)
Oct. 14, 2006 vs. Michigan (student section)
Sept. 8, 2007 vs. Notre Dame (full stadium)
Sept. 27, 2008 vs. Illinois (full stadium)
Sept. 26, 2009 vs. Iowa (full stadium)
Oct. 30, 2010 vs. Michigan (student section)
Sept. 10, 2011 vs. Alabama (full stadium)
Oct. 27, 2012 vs. Ohio State (full stadium)
Oct. 12, 2013 vs. Michigan (full stadium)
Oct. 25, 2014 vs. Ohio State (full stadium)
Nov. 21, 2015 vs. Michigan (full stadium)
Among the 12 annual outings, a few current Nittany Lions have also logged standout performances in Penn State White Out conditions within the last few years.
Saeed Blacknall's Touchdown Catches
Blacknall has grabbed each of his two career touchdown receptions in Penn State White Out games. Last year, he highlighted the Penn State White Out against Michigan (Nov. 21, 2015) with a 25-yard catch in the second quarter.
In 2014, he recorded a 24-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to cut the Ohio State deficit to three, in a Penn State White Out game that resulted in a 31-24 Buckeye victory in double overtime.
Tyler Davis' Field Goals
Davis enters the week as one of five players in the FBS standings who remain perfect on the year in field goal percentage. Davis is also sitting atop the Big Ten Conference standings with 1.67 field goals per game. In his first Penn State White Out appearance last year, Davis set a career high with three field goals against Michigan, while also converting on his only extra point attempt. Since then, he has matched the career mark in Penn State's overtime win against Minnesota this year.
DaeSean Hamilton's Record Setting
Hamilton registered a record-breaking performance in his first ever Penn State White Out appearance. In the 2014 Penn State White Out game against Ohio State, he broke a Penn State game receptions record, as well as his own freshman receptions record with 14 catches for 126 yards against the Buckeyes. On the way to his second Big Ten Freshman of the Week award, he made three catches during the game-tying drive late in the game to force overtime.
A Look at Ohio State
Ohio State enters Saturday's matchup at 6-0 on the year, having also won each of its last 20 road games, which stands as the longest active streak nationally. Last week, the Buckeyes outscored then-No. 8 Wisconsin 24-7 in the second half to secure a 30-23 comeback win in overtime.
Under the direction of fifth-year head coach Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes have also won their last 13 night games. They enter Saturday's matchup with a 26-10 record when playing on the road with kickoff slated after 5 p.m. local time.
Meyer acknowledged the upcoming challenge for his Buckeyes though, as the Nittany Lions are undefeated in Beaver Stadium this season (4-0) and have won 10 of their last 11 at home.
"Wish they saved the White Outs for other games, but I guess they used it for our game," Meyer said. "It's one of the top five atmospheres, again, in college football."
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