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PITTSBURGH — Pitt is about to enter the lion’s den. The Nittany Lions’ den, that is.
On Saturday, Pitt will play in Penn State’s Beaver Stadium for the first time since 1999, and while not many people associated with the program then are still around, those that will might not recognize the place, anyway.
In the last 18 years, the capacity has been expanded to just shy of 107,000 and has become one of the largest, loudest venues in college football.
It’s an intimidating environment that ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit — an Ohio State alum — called one of the best in college football.
For that reason, among others, Pitt has been practicing indoors with the speakers cranked up to 11 in an effort to replicate the conditions that they’ll face on Saturday. But even Pat Narduzzi acknowledges that it likely won’t do it justice.
He should know, after all. Narduzzi was the defensive coordinator at Michigan State from 2007 to 2014 and his teams went 2-2 in Beaver Stadium.
“You don’t know what you’re going to get there,” he said Thursday. “We practiced the noise and all that, but it will be a different chaos. You can’t simulate everything.”
Narduzzi also practiced with a bit more physicality than usual with the though that Saturday’s game is going to be a tough one.
“We went out with shoulder pads and helmets instead of what we call spider pads and we hit quite a bit because it’s going to be a physical game and we want it that way,” he said. “Last week, we were in spiders. It was a softer practice.”
Narduzzi isn’t the only Panthers player that has Beaver Stadium experience. Several of the players visited their as potential recruits and defensive tackle Kam Carter and wide receiver Aaron Mathews were both Penn State commits. Even the ones without firsthand experience have gotten to know what the opposition this week is all about after seeing the rivalry renewed firsthand last season.
“Just being on Twitter, you see Pitt, Penn State tweets all day, just for no reason, fans are going back and forth,” wide receiver Quadree Henderson said Saturday. “It’s not even fans that played here, it’s just people that have big love for the game. … I know if I mentioned Penn State, my Twitter feed would be blowing up for 25 hours. There’s 24 hours in the day, but it’d be blowing up for 25.”
Of course, that’s what makes it a great rivalry. With the future of the game up in the air and more and more big non-conference games being played at neutral sites, the Panthers are going to cherish the chance to be heckled, booed and hopefully upset 107,000 Penn State fans on Saturday
“For the City of Pittsburgh, you want to have it here and for State College, you want to have it there,” Narduzzi said. “I think that’s what makes it special, for sure.”