Football: Wildcats use unique ways to prepare for noisy Beaver Stadium


Daily file photo by Rafi Letzter

Junior quarterback Kain Colter said the offense will have a challenge with Penn State’s defense. The team is using a similar blueprint to what they used in the 2010 Outback Bowl against Penn State defensive coordinator Ted Roof when he was the defensive coordinator at Auburn.

Nick Medline, Assistant Sports Editor

As the Northwestern offensive line jogged along the sidelines during practice Wednesday, one lineman blurted out: “We are … Penn State!”

It was not in a sarcastic or mocking tone — it had just become embedded in his mind.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald and his staff blared the refrain from the loudspeakers repeatedly, hoping to imitate the experience the Wildcats will face on Saturday when they play in the raucous environment at Beaver Stadium.

Despite poor weather conditions, the team practiced outside, even running plays on the grass field for almost an hour. The Wildcats are well aware that a visit to State College, Pa., poses numerous challenges.

“Well, you know, anticipating high 50s and rain on Saturday,” Fitzgerald said. “So I wanted to make sure we got out in the elements, and I thought the guys handled it pretty well.”

Fitzgerald has even been playing music in meetings, hoping to get the team “thoroughly annoyed.” Even in a matchup with a mediocre Temple two weekends ago, official attendance at Beaver Stadium was a whopping 93,680.

After opening the season at Syracuse, NU played four consecutive games at Ryan Field. Although the Cats blew a 22-point lead before eking out a 42-41 victory in the game with Syracuse, Fitzgerald expressed confidence in how his team deals with away games.

“We’ve played pretty well on the road,” Fitzgerald said. “We know how to handle it, and it’ll be a great challenge.”

The last time the Cats visited Happy Valley, they jumped out to a 21-0 advantage before giving up 35 unanswered points and losing the game. Looking to wash away those unpleasant memories from two years ago, NU is intent on solid preparation.

Fitzgerald said staff members usually research a list of songs that an opposing team plays before heading to its stadium. Along with the team chant, the speakers pumped out a steady dose of Zombie Nation music — more specifically, the song Kernkraft 400.

But the Nittany Lions also bring impressive talent to the field. Under first-year coach Bill O’Brien, Penn State has altered its style. Junior quarterback Kain Colter noted that the Nittany Lions regularly change coverage schemes. For Colter and the offense, the strategic blueprint was provided in the 2010 Outback Bowl against Auburn. Ted Roof, then-defensive coordinator at Auburn, now holds the same position at Penn State.

After the NU offense tallied a school-record 704 yards against Indiana this past weekend, Colter said he trusts the coaches in setting the team up for success against the Nittany Lions, who are led by senior linebacker Michael Mauti.

“The coaches have provided us with a great game plan,” he said. “We got a lot different team than we did in the Outback Bowl … If we go out there and execute, I feel like there’s no defense that can really stop us.”

This season, senior quarterback Matt McGloin returned to Penn State. McGloin has tossed six touchdowns and no interceptions against NU during his career. Even without running back Silas Redd, who transferred to the University of Southern California in the offseason, the Nittany Lions have successfully leaned on four players out of the backfield. O’Brien, widely considered an offensive mastermind for his work with Tom Brady, mixes up formations to great effect.

The NU defense wilted late in the Indiana game, and the unit looks to shore up its play before Saturday. Sophomore linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo suggested the late-game scare will motivate the group in preparation for a difficult road contest.

“You can only learn from that type of situation,” Ariguzo said. “We came out with a ‘W’ so we’re gonna learn from that and work hard. We’ve been working hard in practice so we’re not going to let that happen again.”