Virginia coach Mike London said the Cavalier faithful are looking forward to welcoming “guests in the house” when his squad hosts Penn State Saturday.
Whether the Virginia fans treat the Nittany Lions so kindly remains to be seen.
Bill O’Brien and company take their show on the road for the first time this season to face the Cavaliers tomorrow at noon in Charlottesville, Va. After losing the home opener to Ohio, O’Brien will look to claim his first win as head coach against a challenging Virginia squad, which scorched Richmond, 43-19, in its first competition last weekend.
Not only will this be the first away game of the O’Brien era, but it will also be the first road game since a verdict was rendered in the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse case. London said his gameday operations staff will reiterate the acceptable conduct policy with the fans in an attempt to squelch any inappropriate actions in advance.
London added that, although Penn State has had its fair share of distractions, he expects O’Brien to have his team extremely prepared.
“Despite what everyone is talking about, the distractions and the emotions, he’s getting them ready to play a football game and to try to win a football game,” London said. “We’re doing the same thing.”
Penn State senior linebacker Michael Mauti echoed these thoughts, saying his team looks forward to getting the sour taste from last week’s 24-14 loss out of its mouth.
“It’s very important…to really put our best foot forward this week,” Mauti said. “I think it was good in a way to get last week over with. We get all that distraction out [of the way]. We finally get back into the groove, back into the rhythm of the season, and really start playing the best football we can play.”
Mauti said Virginia’s offensive line, led by senior tackle and captain Oday Aboushi, presents a difficult matchup for the Lion defense because of the line’s immense size. However, it’s a challenge he feels his team is ready for.
“They’re highly-touted and they’re a big offensive line as a whole,” Mauti said. “So those guys represent a challenge to us. But we play in the Big Ten….That’s something that we are kind of used to, but those guys are definitely talented tackles.”
While an assistant coach at Georgia Tech, Maryland and Duke, O’Brien faced the Cavaliers many times and expects a similar atmosphere to when he faced them as their ACC rivals.
“I think they’ve got a good home-field environment and atmosphere,” O’Brien said. “It’s a loud place. Our guys gotta be ready for that.”
The Lions will be facing what O’Brien called a “big, tall” Cavalier defensive line. To make matters worse, Penn State’s starting running back sophomore Bill Belton, is day-to-day with an ankle injury he suffered in the Ohio game. Former walk-on senior Derek Day, who ran for 36 yards against Ohio, will start in place of Belton in the backfield.
Despite Day not having much experience at the running back position heading into this season — Day has primarily been a special teams player — O’Brien said he’s very confident in the senior because of how much he’s improved in the past few months.
Virginia’s backfield is much more refined. Returning a two-headed running attack in senior Perry Jones and sophomore Kevin Parks that ran for over 1,600 yards last season, the Cavaliers have many standout offensive players, including junior Michael Rocco at quarterback.
However, senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill said the defensive front is up for the task, especially with regard to defending Virginia’s tailbacks.
“They make cuts on a dime,” Hill said. “We really have to focus on tackling well and, you know, not letting them break through when we have them in a hold.”