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James Franklin Embracing ‘Challenge’ Of Jordan-Hare Stadium’s Unique Atmosphere

The last time Penn State football was tasked with playing in an SEC environment, James Franklin roamed the sidelines as Maryland’s offensive coordinator in 2010. 

While the Pennsylvania native’s career trajectory has drastically altered since the Nittany Lions suffered a 24-3 drubbing at the hands of Alabama over a decade ago under Joe Paterno, the precedent of raucous home-field advantages throughout the SEC has remained the same. 

At Vanderbilt, where Franklin led the Commodores to 24 victories in three seasons, the head coach never traveled to Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium, which marks the Nittany Lions’ battlefield this Saturday. Despite entering unfamiliar territory, Franklin is well aware of the difficulty a sold-out 88,000-seat home crowd could present to his visiting crew. 

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Franklin said. “This is their Orange Out [game]. We listen to all their press conferences and watched all those things. [We] talked to a lot of people that have played there and [have] been a part of that environment. [We’ve been] getting our players prepared for what that will look like and what that’s going to be.”

Historically, Jordan-Hare Stadium has proven to play host to one of college football’s loudest environments with consistent in-game crowd noise north of 100 decibels. After the Tigers’ walk-off “kick-six” win against Alabama in 2013, seismic activity was recorded as far as Huntsville — located over 210 miles north of Auburn’s campus. 

Although the Nittany Lions returned to Beaver Stadium last weekend on the heels of the squad’s home-opening road date with Purdue, Franklin placed an extra emphasis on noise preparation with Auburn’s environment at the forefront of his forward thought process. 

“The guys look at me like I’m crazy,” Franklin said. “The staff and the players, we went all silent count all last week in practice with, as everybody knows, the music as loud as possible. Everybody [was] like, ‘Well, we’re at home this week.’ Well, obviously, we were starting our preparation a week ahead for that without telling anybody that’s what we were doing.”

Despite squeaking past under-matched San Jose State last weekend through fourth-quarter heroics cultivated from quarterback TJ Finley’s scrambling capabilities, Auburn’s defense was gifted a much-needed lift of its own from the Tigers’ student section.

The structure, which is eerily similar to Beaver Stadium’s setup that places students in the teeth of the south end zone, helped stall a late push by San Jose State created by the onset of several pre-snap penalties deep in the red zone. 

While the Nittany Lions’ offensive line has struggled in pass protection by allowing six sacks in only two matchups, Phil Trautwein’s core has maintained its discipline by limiting self-induced penalties. In front of a sold-out Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette nearly two weeks ago, the offensive line failed to allow a single false start call across from the Boilermakers — a trend Franklin hopes to continue on Saturday.

“The scoreboard side of the end zone has been problematic,” Franklin said. “You watch San Jose State last week. They were able to get down into the low red zone, and I think had three penalties in a row that knocked them out of there.”

Aside from dealing with sheer noise on Saturday, the Nittany Lions are also prepared to deal with their fair share of logistical challenges ahead of their late-week southbound venture. For most Big Ten road matchups, Franklin’s squad typically charters a flight from the University Park Airport directly to the opposing team’s location. 

However, this time around, due to logistical challenges at Montgomery Regional Airport, Penn State’s travel plans have been thrown off. The team won’t be able to charter a flight directly to the airport. Additionally, the Nittany Lions will need to travel another hour to Jordan-Hare Stadium on game day to further accentuate this week’s unique accommodations. 

“You know, we really were working on flying into there, but that wasn’t able to get done,” Franklin said. “So, flights are challenging, hotels are challenging. Our hotel is about an hour from campus, [and] I actually think they used to stay an hour from campus as well, the home team. So, there are some things that we’re going to talk to the team about today, just to be prepared for.”

From consistently preaching the idea of four core values to maintaining a “1-0” mentality week-to-week, Franklin is as routine-oriented as people come. While it might be difficult to stray away from normalcy during a week littered with so many deviations, the ninth-year Penn State head coach knows that his group will be prepared to fully implement its game plan from the jump Saturday afternoon.

“For the most part, everything else in our routine will be similar,” he said. “You know, we’ll be as prepared as we possibly can be for the environment. Once again, at the end of the day, you still got to be able to go execute at the moment and at the time.”

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About the Author

Connor Krause

Connor Krause is a junior from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania double majoring in journalism and business. He is a lifelong Penn State football and basketball fan and enjoys rooting for Pittsburgh sports teams. In his free time, Connor can be found playing golf or pick-up basketball. You can follow his Twitter and Instagram @ckrause_31.

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