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Gophers prepping for wild atmosphere in Penn State’s Whiteout game

Minnesota is will face the No. 16-ranked Nittany Lions at 6:30 p.m. Saturday

Penn State takes the field for the whiteout game against Auburn on Sept. 18, 2021.
Penn State takes the field for the "Whiteout" game against Auburn on Sept. 18, 2021.
Joe Hermitt / TNS / The Patriot-News
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MINNEAPOLIS — The Gophers football team will enter its most-daunting road environment of the season this weekend. They will travel to Happy Valley for Penn State’s annual "Whiteout" game, where upwards of 110,000 fans dress in one color for a night game at Beaver Stadium.

Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck routinely tries to prepare his players for tough atmospheres — and that is especially true this weekend. He said Monday they asked residents in the apartment buildings surrounding their outdoor field to go out to their decks and bang on pots and pans during practice, similar to the way people honored health care workers during the pandemic.

“I’m just kidding; that’s about as funny as I get,” Fleck added.

Honestly, though, the Gophers practices this week will have volume cranked “to a whole different notch.” Minnesota, a five-point underdog, will kick off against No. 16 Penn State at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in University Park, Pennsylvania. The game will be televised on ABC.

“It’s all part of college football, but we’ll get ourselves ready for that the best we possibly can,” Fleck said. “I promise you we will create that environment inside there, and Matt Childers, our video director, has got a heck of a challenge this week. We’ll make sure it’s deafening because that is what it will be on Saturday night.”

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Gophers players said they grew up admiring the scene of Happy Valley on game days. “Being able to play in it is definitely a great opportunity for anyone,” center John Michael Schmitz said.

“When you run on the field, you get to look at how every seat is filled and how loud it is,” safety Jordan Howden said. “For me, it’s just another game, another opportunity to have fun and do what you do since you were a little kid.”

Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin explained at Big Ten Media Days in July how Minnesota became this year’s Whiteout opponent. The primary consideration was wanting it to be a night game, and the Big Ten does not permit night games later in November because of the weather.

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Franklin said one other opponent was considered for a Whiteout, but that was probably going to be an 11 a.m. kickoff, so it was out of the mix. Penn State’s game against No. 2 Ohio State is set for that time next week.

Until Auburn last year, Penn State played either Michigan or Ohio State in eight straight Whiteout games. The Nittany Lions are 9-8 in all Whiteout games, including 7-6 when the stadium is full (not just the student sections).

“There were a lot of factors that went into it,” Franklin said. “I think it also, maybe, caught people off guard because of the way the schedule fell up to that point. It had pretty much rotated between two opponents, so it kind of set up an expectation.”

Besides the Buckeyes and Wolverines, Penn State had Purdue as its opponent for its inaugural Whiteout in 2004, Notre Dame in 2007, Illinois in 2008, Iowa in 2009 and Alabama in 2011.

“With the fireworks and the white T-shirts and clothing (against the) black sky,” Franklin said in July, “it’s pretty special.”

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Related Topics: MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS
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