STATE COLLEGE, PA —
Graduate quarterback Daniel Smith did not hesitate when asked about the experience of playing in front of 100,000 people.
“The leaf blowers were louder,” he said, cracking a smile.
Prior to the game, Villanova head coach Mark Ferrante told the media that he was planning on increasing the volume in practice to mimic the experience of playing in front of the hostile environment of Happy Valley.
“We’re gonna try to incorporate a little more noise, a little more volume into some of our team periods of practice,” he said. “That's just one tweak or adjustment to try to simulate 100,000 people as opposed to ten thousand people.”
However, exactly how he planned on increasing the volume was unknown. Many college teams have practiced with music blasting to simulate crowd noise, and former Texas head coach John Mackovic said in an interview with ESPN that his 1995 Longhorns team was “so used to the [Texas A&M] fight song and cheers that the players could almost sing along,” but Ferrante went for an unconventional choice to prepare for the chaos they were about to face: leaf blowers.
Although the strategy was bizarre, it had its desired effect. The Wildcats may have lost Saturday’s contest to FBS opponent Penn State, 38-17, yet they emerged with their heads held high, and never once looked out of place in the cavernous Beaver Stadium. The Wildcats held their own against the sixth ranked team in the nation, even if the talent disparity was apparent at times, particularly with a number of long Nittany Lion touchdowns.
Videos of the team practicing with gardening equipment were released on Wednesday, and from then on, Penn State fans had a field day mocking the strategy. The Nittany Lion mascot ran on the field multiple times in the first quarter brandishing a leaf blower, and celebrated with it after several Penn State touchdowns.
However, the fan noise did not have as much of an effect as expected. The Penn State faithful created an excellent atmosphere, as 105,790 fans attended the game, yet the Wildcats never seemed uncomfortable despite the crowd. The noise was a far cry from the cacophony that Beaver Stadium sometimes unleashes, notably last weekend in the annual “White Out” game against Auburn.
“It was more open, so [the noise] didn't really factor as much ... as we probably thought it would,” Smith said, “but it was still unlike anything we've ever experienced.”
Villanova graduate linebacker Forrest Rhyne similarly downplayed the environment.
“I'd been here before, but playing on the field, it didn't feel any different,” he said. “The field is 120 yards, and it's 53 and a half wide, and there's 11 players, so I'm more focused on what's going on on the field.”
However, the Central Pennsylvania native did admit that playing in the game was special.
“It was definitely an awesome experience, playing in front of that many people,” Rhyne said. “I love PA football, high school, college, anything. It was a weird, awesome experience. I just wish we would have got the win.”