The Big Ten opener is here and the Nittany Lions are basically where everyone thought they would be at this point in the the season. I don't know if many people thought that Coach Paterno and Co. still wouldn't have a starting quarterback, but it's week five and still no starting quarterback. Although, quarterback play was better last week, not much can be taken away from putting up nice passing numbers against Eastern Michigan.
The Eastern Michigan game showed some improvements with the Nittany Lion offense, but fans can't ignore the fact it was against a weak opponent. The same can't be said about week three opponent Temple, who dismantled a talented Maryland team this past weekend. Still, the offensive unit has a lot of work to do before they really get into the meat of their Big Ten schedule.
The injury bug crept up and bit the Nittany Lions this past weekend with some serious losses to the Penn State defense. The Lions lost defensive standout Mike Mauti for the season. Mauti tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the first quarter, according to Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli, Penn State Director of Athletic Medicine. Mauti will have surgery within the next two weeks and rehabilitation will take a minimum of nine months, according to Sebastianelli.
Senior starting cornerback D'Anton Lynn also suffered an injury during the game and was transported to Mount Nittany Medical Center. Lynn's head, neck, and spinal column were examined and he was released late Saturday afternoon. The Nittany Lions reported during the week that Lynn could have started practicing Thursday but is listed as doubtful for today's match-up with Indiana.
The injury to Mauti is a huge blow to the Penn State defense as he was the Nittany Lions' leading tackler this season. This is Mauti's second serious knee injury since being at State College. During pre-season practice in August 2009, he tore his right ACL and missed the entire season. He took a medical redshirt in 2009 after playing as a true freshman in 2008. Mauti was a pre-season first-team All-Big Ten choice and Butkus Award candidate.
With Mauti being out, Nate Stupar will now fill his role in the middle of the Penn State defense. Stupar has played well this season recording 13 tackles, with 3.5 of them being for a loss. Stupar has seen decent playing time since his sophomore year so the Lions defense shouldn't have huge trouble adapting.
"With Mauti out Stupar has gone out, and we've had a little depth there," said Penn State Head Coach Joe Paterno. "Mauti has been the leader of the group, but Stupar has played well when he's been in there, and he has to rise to the occasion as will the other kids. Gerald Hodges has been a kid that's played well at times. Other times he hasn't been as intense as you'd like. There again, I think there are two positions where we have some depth on both with Lynn and the other kid (Mauti) and you'd like to have them, but we don't. That's the way the game's played."
Lynn's injury may hurt the Nittany Lions the most with no timetable set on when he can return to game action. Indiana ranks 35th in the nation in the passing game with 274.3 yards per game. The Nittany Lions have played three different cornerbacks this season at times and it looks like true freshman Adrian Amos will get some playing time this week against Indiana.
"We've played three corners. We've played Derrick Thomas, Stephon Morris, and we have played Lynn," said Paterno. "We will not have the luxury of that kind of a round robin arrangement, but then the freshman kid Amos has done well when he's been in there. So we'll have three kids ready. Obviously, you'd like to have Lynn, because Lynn's been in a lot of big games and Lynn's got the experience as opposed to sticking a freshman in there, but that's where we are. I think we're fortunate that we have a couple of these younger kids that can step in."
The Penn State defense shouldn't have much trouble with the Hoosiers who have lost to Ball State, Virginia, and North Texas so far this season. Indiana ranks 71st in the rushing game in the country and with the play of the Nittany Lions' front four improving every week it should be a tough day on the ground for the Hoosiers.
Matt McGloin earned Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week honors with his performance against Eastern Michigan last week. McGloin went 14-17 for 220 yards and three scores against the Eagles. Penn State's other Quarterback Rob Bolden was 7-13 for 115 yards and a touchdowns. Derek Moye is finally staring to perform better as well catching two touchdown passes last week against the Eagles.
The Nittany Lions shouldn't be tested much this weekend by an Indiana squad that already has some bad losses under their belt. The real test will come next weekend when the Iowa Hawkeyes come into Happy Valley. The Hawkeyes have also played inconsistent this season but are still a very talented bunch that always finds a way to beat Penn State. That game will be the starting point that will decide if the Nittany Lions will be bowl eligible or sitting at home for the 2011 season.