Penn State and Ohio State are supposed to play at Beaver Stadium every two years. But the last time the Buckeyes played in Happy Valley was a lot different, thanks to COVID-19. The teams played under the lights in late October, but only in front of 1,500 fans. Saturday’s game will be played in front of well over 100,000.
It will be the first time Penn State and Ohio State have played before a Beaver Stadium crowd that’s appropriate for a Big Ten showdown since 2018.
So what were Penn State’s current players doing back then? Some of them were in Beaver Stadium that night.
“It was electric,” PJ Mustipher, then a true freshman, told reporters via Zoom Tuesday morning. Mustipher’s role on the team has changed dramatically since 2018. Now, the defensive tackle is a fifth-year senior and team leader.
“I didn’t play in that game,” Mustipher said with a laugh, “so, you know, I wanted to be a part of that. But just being there for the White Out. That was my first White Out experience. Just seeing that atmosphere, that environment.”
Saturday’s game won’t be a White Out. Penn State had its White Out the previous weekend against Minnesota. Mustipher has gone through a lot in the past four years. His 2021 season ended prematurely in Week 6 when he suffered a season-ending injury at Iowa. That injury could have been the last play of Mustipher’s football career.
More than two years earlier, Juice Scruggs almost lost a lot more than his career. In early 2019, before what would have been his second season, Scruggs got in a car accident that fractured his vertebrae, gave him a concussion and could have done a lot more damage. Scruggs fought to play football again, and now, is the team’s starting center and a player quarterback Sean Clifford called the “keystone“ of Penn State’s offense.
Back in 2018, Scruggs, like Mustipher, was a freshman who wasn’t going to play in a game as big as the Ohio State showdown. But that doesn’t mean the experience wasn’t valuable.
Penn State blew a 26-14 fourth-quarter lead and lost 27-26.
“It was definitely a heartbreaker,” Scruggs told reporters Tuesday, “but it was definitely a good learning experience. To learn, you have to find a way to win. You have to find a way to finish games, no matter what.”
If Penn State finds a way to finish the Buckeyes Saturday, there’s a good chance Mitchell Tinsley is a big part of it. Tinsley is in his first season at Penn State but is a college football veteran. He played two years at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas and then two more at Western Kentucky before transferring to Penn State. Tinsley was a no-name in the college football world when Penn State last played Ohio State in front of a packed home crowd, and he wasn’t watching the game.
“I was just trying to make my way,” Tinsley told reporters via Zoom Wednesday. “That was kind of where I was at. I didn’t have any offers out of high school. I had walked on to my junior college. So, at that point, it was kind of just grind, put my head down and keep working.”
Tinsley kept working, and by the time he left Western Kentucky, he was one of the best receivers statistically in college football. Tinsley ended the 2021 season with 1,402 yards (eighth in the country) and 14 touchdowns (fifth) on 87 catches (16th).
Come Saturday, Mustipher, Scruggs, Tinsley and the rest of Penn State’s team will need to be at their best to beat Ohio State.
Mustipher can’t wait.
“It truly is something special when those guys come into town,” he said. “I’m sure our fans will be excited, but we can’t look too deep into that. We have a job to do out there. But I’m excited, man. I can’t keep saying that enough because (Ohio State is) truly a great program. We’re a great program, and we just have to line it up on Saturday.”