Penn State players experienced their first taste of the atmosphere at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh two years ago when the rivalry between the Nittany Lions and Pitt resumed after a 16-year absence.
"I just remember how mean they were. … They said everything in the book you could imagine," Lions defensive end Shareef Miller said this week.
That's just how it is with an in-state rivalry such as this where there's no love lost for either side. The noise and the vitriol from the sellout crowd should be at an even higher pitch under the lights Saturday night when the 13th-ranked Nittany Lions (1-0) and the Panthers (1-0) meet for the 99th time.
Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley remembers the craziness in 2016, even if he might recall the interception he threw late in the game that secured Pitt's 42-39 victory more. But coach James Franklin pumped up the volume this week, making the Lasch practice fields "as loud and hostile" as he possibly could, and the players should be ready.
"He cranks up the music for the offense and makes us have to communicate and handle the loud noises, and be prepared so we're not having those issues in the game," McSorley said.
"We've gone into hostile places like Ohio State and Iowa and Michigan in the past and had to deal with the noise and angry fans and fans who have a lot of disdain for Penn State or whatever it might be. We've seen it and experienced it ourselves, and now we're able to pass that on to our teammates who haven't been able to do that."
Seventeen Penn State players made their college debuts last week in the overtime thriller against Appalachian State, including eight true freshmen.
The Nittany Lions made their share of mistakes last week, chiefly missed tackles. McSorley said the offense was not as precise as it would have liked to be, "a little bit off here and there." He said the Lions buckled down to improve the timing, starting with Tuesday's practice.
"We were a lot more precise; our energy was there," McSorley said Wednesday. "Even going back to the beginning of drills, everyone had a different sense of urgency. We were snapping in and out of routes. The balls were put in accurate spots where the receivers could catch it, turn upfield, and do something with it. Everything was a lot cleaner."