Penn State comfortable playing on road this season
Before heading to Wisconsin for the 2013 season finale as the biggest underdog in school history, Penn State had gone almost 13 months between road wins.
Since pulling the upset in Madison, Wisc. as a 24-point underdog last Nov. 30, the Nittany Lions have changed their fortunes away from Beaver Stadium.
Penn State (6-4, 2-4) has won four of its past five away from home, dating to last season, heading into its road finale Saturday at Illinois (4-6, 1-5).
“When we’re on the road, we just go in thinking it’s an … us-against-the-world kind of thing,” receiver DaeSean Hamilton said. “We go in there knowing what the task is with the right mindset of we’re not really worried about crowd noise or anything like that.
“We just go in there and treat (it) like it’s just like another football game for us, an opportunity to get what we want. We just go in there and try to play our game.”
PSU’s stretch of four wins in five games away from home includes a victory over Central Florida in Dublin. In addition to winning at a hostile environment at Camp Randall Stadium in Wisconsin almost a year ago, the Lions also have won Big Ten games at Rutgers and Indiana this season. The Scarlet Knights’ home crowd was the largest in school history for their inaugural Big Ten contest against PSU on Sept. 13.
Penn State’s lone road defeat since losing at Minnesota on Nov. 9, 2013, is at Michigan last month.
“I think the biggest thing that you’re trying to do is deal with not having the homefield advantage with the noise and things like that,” Lions coach James Franklin said.
The environment at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill., won’t be nearly as imposing as PSU games over the past two-plus years at Michigan, Ohio State or Nebraska. The Illini’s average home attendance of 42,612 is 11th in the 14-team Big Ten and is less than half that of the aforementioned schools or PSU’s home crowds at Beaver Stadium.
Despite upsetting then-ranked Minnesota, 28-24, at home four weeks ago, Illinois has lost 13 of its past 14 homes games against Big Ten teams. Illinois hasn’t beaten Penn State at Memorial Stadium since the Rashard Mendenhall-led Illini beat the Lions in 2007.
That year also marks the previous time both Illinois, which will be hosting Senior Day festivities Saturday, had a winning conference home record, and Penn State was under .500 on the road in the Big Ten.
Penn State’s dominant defense has been even better away from Beaver Stadium than it is has been in Happy Valley. The Lions’ lead FBS in yardage allowed in road or neutral-site games (254.3 per game).
Franklin said Wednesday there’s no secret or common thread to his team’s road success this season.
“I think it’s a coincidence, I think it’s opponents, I think it’s a lot of different things that factor in,” Franklin said. “I think it’s the people we’ve played at home, it’s the people we’ve played on the road, there’s a lot of factors that go into it.
“We want to be a really good road team, but we want to be a better home team, too.”