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White Out Wednesday: A History By The Numbers

Folks, it’s that time of year again. This Saturday is truly the epitome of what it would be like if we combined Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza into one holiday with the celebration revolving around Penn State football. This glorious occasion that I’m referring to is of course the 2016 edition of the famous White Out game held only in Beaver Stadium.

Since 2004, Penn State has promoted for the crowd to wear all white for a selected opponent one time per season. That dismal 2004 Nittany Lions team almost managed to knock off ninth-ranked Purdue (yes, there was a world with a top-10 Purdue team), before falling late and losing by a touchdown. Penn State fans have watched many of their most memorable plays during these White Out games, from the acrobatic Allen Robinson doing his best Randy Moss impersonation against Michigan, to ferocious defensive end Tamba Hali extracting Troy Smith’s soul from the poor Buckeye quarterback’s body. There’s a historically strong intangible aura that hovers over the 107,000+ faithful during these special games, and there is no doubt that the White Out environment is the best in the nation at boosting the Nittany Lions’ morale while intimidating the opposition to no end. However, even with this strong home-field advantage, the Nittany Lions have only mustered a 5-7 record all-time in White Out contests.

With all of these euphoric wins and heart-breaking defeats battling for attention, what better time than now to retrace the history of our beloved White Out in search of the best and worst games? I also took a look at the statistics that White Outs have warranted over the last 12 seasons, but, as you’ll see, the White Out magic isn’t exactly as beneficial as one might think (or hope).

The Best

2005: No. 16 Penn State 17, No. 6 Ohio State 10

This game is considered by many to be the first true White Out in Penn State history. Whether it’s Calvin Lowry’s interception return, Derrick Williams practically flying around the edge to reach the pylon, or the monstrous aforementioned demoralization of Smith by Hali, this game has legendary written all over it. Many life-long Penn State fans still argue that this night will go down as the loudest Beaver Stadium has ever been, and even former Ohio State quarterback Kirk Herbstreit agreed.

2013: Penn State 43, No. 19 Michigan 40 (4OT)

The game that seemed like it would never end. Down 10 points halfway through the fourth quarter, Bill O’Brien’s Nittany Lions clawed back into the game on the back of a gutsy freshman quarterback by the name of Christian Hackenberg and the sheer athleticism of future NFL star receiver Allen Robinson. Michigan saw three potentially game-winning field goals miss, falling short, sailing wide, or getting blocked on each occasion. Bill Belton’s 2-yard touchdown scamper finally saw the night end in relief for the exhausted blue and white. Quite possibly the weirdest, most entertaining game in the history of Beaver Stadium.

2008: No. 12 Penn State 38, No. 22 Illinois 24

Fresh off of a Rose Bowl appearance the previous season, Juice Williams and the Illinois Fighting Illini rolled into town with a 2-1 record and high expectations. These expectations were soon slashed as Derrick Williams exploded with three total touchdowns, including a fourth quarter kickoff return for a score that sealed the victory for Penn State. The Illini’s season spiraled downward from there, as they limped to a disappointing 5-7 record.

bobby chen whiteout
Fans cheered as Penn State tried to overcome the odds in their 2014 White Out game, which ended in a dramatic 31-24 loss to Ohio State in double overtime.

The Worst

2014: No. 13 Ohio State 31, Penn State 24 (2OT)

Oh boy, I can’t wait to see the reactions to this one. Of any game in recent memory, no other matchup frustrated Penn State fans much like this one. When the Buckeyes made an alleged interception that was proved by replay to have hit the ground, Penn State fans could only boo and scream in disbelief when the call on the field stood. Now we know that the replay equipment malfunctioned, but that’s a hard excuse to swallow when everyone else in the stadium could see the play clear as day on the JumboTron. Later, a 50-yard field goal that the Buckeyes kicked a full three seconds after the play clock had expired further infuriated fans and left a bad taste in the mouths of Penn Staters everywhere. To this day, I’m still awestruck that this happened, although it wouldn’t be unrealistic for a B1G crew to try to help a ranked team on the road, and (not so) coincidentally, Ohio State went on to win the national title. Even with the negative feelings accompanying this game, the Nittany Lions deserve props for a well fought battle, as the team mounted a furious 17-point comeback to force the game into overtime and almost snatch the victory.

2009: Iowa 21, No. 5 Penn State 10

When Iowa came to town in 2009, there was a lingering hatred for the Hawkeyes following their 2008 victory on a field goal as time expired to derail our national title hopes. However, with a highly-ranked Penn State jumping out in front to a 10-0 lead early in the game, no one expected the Nittany Lions to be denied again. But then college football happened and Iowa went on to score the last 21 points of the game — including 16 in the fourth quarter — to stun Penn State on its own turf. The infamous meltdown in the final stanza of this specific game remains one of the grandest chokes in Nittany Lion history. Adrian Clayborn started the madness by blocking, scooping, and returning a punt for a touchdown to give Iowa an 11-10 lead. Then, Darryl Clark throws a (not) very timely interception, shortly followed by an Iowa rushing touchdown. Hope was reinstated as the Nittany Lions found themselves on the Hawkeye 36 late on, down only eight. But Evan Royster then promptly fumbled the ball after an 18-yard run into the red zone, and an Iowa field goal followed by another Clark turnover capped a dreadful ending for the blue and white.

White Out By The Numbers

Despite Penn State’s 5-7 record all-time in these games, maybe we should cut them some slack. The 12 previous opponents strode into the White Out contest with a combined 50-8 record, and two of the teams (2011 Alabama and 2014 Ohio State) went on to win the national championship. Even in those seven losses, PSU has never lost by more than 16 points during a White Out, and five of the seven losses were one-score games entering the fourth quarter. Peruse the following statistics while considering the level of competition our Nittany Lions faced. Even if it does infuriate you a little bit, you’ll have a newfound appreciation for the true power of a Penn State White Out.

Penn State Passing Offense

  • The Nittany Lions have averaged 205.7 yards per game in the air during their 12 White Out games to date.
  • Over the last 12 seasons in Beaver Stadium, Penn State has averaged 222.7 yards per game within the friendly confines of Happy Valley.
  • If you combine the season-by-season averages for passing yards allowed per game from Penn State’s 12 White Out opponents, the opposing defense normally allows 196.5 yards per game.

As you can see, Penn State averages almost the same number of passing yards in a White Out that they would normally pick up in a typical home game, while also just exceeding the typical season average by the opposing defense for passing yards allowed per game.

Penn State Rushing Offense

  • The Nittany Lions averaged 94.2 yards per game on the ground during the 12 White Out games to date.
  • Over the last 12 seasons in Beaver Stadium, Penn State has averaged 171.8 rushing yards per game in Happy Valley.
  • After combining the averages for rushing yards allowed per game for their 12 White Out opponents, the opposing team normally gives up 111.5 rushing yards per game.

This statistic does feature a noticeable hit, as Penn State struggles to run the ball during White Outs to the effect that they do during normal home games. This can be chalked up to the stingy opposing defenses giving up just 111.5 rushing yards per game, a figure that would rank 15th in the nation in today’s defensive rankings. In a lot of these games, Penn State was down late in the game, and therefore they weren’t even attempting to run the ball anymore.

Penn State Passing Defense

  • The Nittany Lions have historically allowed 178.2 passing yards on in their 12 previous White Out performances.
  • During the last 12 seasons, Penn State allowed 184.5 passing yards per game when playing at home.
  • The 12 opposing White Out teams’ season averages combined to 227 passing yards per game.

The Penn State passing defense is stingier during White Outs than during normal home games and has done a great job in the past of holding opponents well under their season average for passing yardage. However, this could be chalked up to teams running out the clock when beating the Nittany Lions, who have lost more White Out games than they’ve won.

Penn State Rushing Defense

  • The Nittany Lions have allowed 145.8 rushing yards on average in their 12 previous White Out performances.
  • During the last 12 seasons, Penn State allowed 102.7 rushing yards per game when playing at home.
  • The 12 opposing White Out teams’ season averages combines to 180.7 rushing yards per game.

Does Penn State allow more rushing yards during WhiteOuts than during normal home games? Sure, but this is because of teams trying to run the clock out late in games where Penn State has been trailing. The Nittany Lions still prevent their opponents from reaching their season average by a substantial margin.

The team leading to start the fourth quarter has won 10 out of 12 White Outs, barring 2013 Michigan and 2009 Iowa. However, if fourth quarter margin matters to you, know that Penn State has outscored its opponents by six in the closing stanza over the course of the 12 White Out games.

Have any questions, stories, or crazy statistics of your own to add? Leave your thoughts in the comment section.

Statistics: ESPN.com and Sports-Reference.com

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About the Author

Mitch Stewart

Mitch is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism from Roanoke, Virginia. In addition to being an editor for Onward State, Mitch loves to watch sports, talk about sports on PSU CommRadio, and tries his hardest to avoid the agony that being a Mets fan brings. To contact Mitch, feel free to send him an e-mail at [email protected], and if you really don't value your social media accounts, follow him and his garbage opinions on Twitter @mitchystew.

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