J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets!
Bill O’Brien won’t be hearing that cheer — a staple at MetLife Stadium — for a while. The chant itself actually never bothered him when he was the offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, the New York Jets’ division rivals.
Its sheer volume was the problem.
O’Brien said he expects a rowdy crowd on Saturday when Penn State takes on Virginia at the 61,500-seat Scott Stadium in Charlottesville. He doesn’t care what the fans say to his players as they compete on the field, but the Nittany Lions need to be prepared for how loud the Virginia fans can be.
At the Lasch Building practice field, there are several powerful speakers lined up along one of the sidelines. O’Brien can use those speakers to blast music or crowd noise at the players.
“I think at the end of the day we’ve got to be able to deal with the crowd noise,” O’Brien said. “Having gone to Charlottesville many times [while an assistant coach] at Georgia Tech and Maryland and Duke, it’s a very loud home crowd.”
Last Saturday, Penn State played at home in front of more 97,000 supporting fans. But if the Lions are losing to the Cavaliers three days from now, they won’t be serenaded by shouts of “We are.”
They’ll likely be booed right out of the tunnel and heckled if they fall behind.
A year ago, it would have been considered typical fan behavior. Penn State fans always bombard the Lions’ opponents in Beaver Stadium with waves of distracting chants. Penn State had dealt with the same adversity from other schools, too.
“That’s just how football is,” senior fullback Michael Zordich said. “That’s the beautiful thing about home-field advantage.”
This season, however, will be different. Many of the away stadiums Penn State visits could be filled with some extra hostility as a result of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case and the NCAA sanctions against the university.
Zordich’s goal will be to silence the crowd.
“When it comes to football and you’re on the field, I would say it’s almost fun to be not liked,” he said.
O’Brien added that he will rely on his senior class to keep some of his younger guys grounded as they play their first road contest on Saturday — one of five away games scheduled this season.
Last week against the Bobcats, Zordich and senior linebacker Michael Mauti made an attempt to regroup a struggling Penn State team toward the end of a game the team would eventually lose 24-14. Their efforts didn’t result in the win, but the leadership they can provide will have long-term benefits.
The message O’Brien and the seniors are conveying is clear: Unfriendly fans aren’t something the Lions can afford to brood over this season, especially after an opening game loss.
“We said this day one when all this stuff broke out that road games are going to be pretty brutal for us,” Zordich said. “That’s just something [we] have to deal with.”