STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Eager to play after being relegated to reserve status, Nate Stupar didn’t envision spending so much time on the field Saturday under such unwelcome circumstances.
When star linebacker Michael Mauti went down with a left injury in first quarter of the 34-6 win over Eastern Michigan, Stupar stepped in and came up with one of the best games of his career. When cornerback D’Anton Lynn laid motionless face down at midfield for several minutes in the third quarter, Stupar kneeled on the turf and started praying.
With Big Ten season here, Penn State (3-1) must press on without two of their best defenders.
At the least, Mauti is done for the year after tearing his left ACL. The redshirt junior will have surgery in the next two weeks, followed by at least a nine-month rehabilitation, the team said Sunday in a statement.
“That’s football,” Stupar said. “Injuries occur, so you’ve just got to keep going.”
It’s the kind of attitude that coach Joe Paterno hopes the rest of the team embraces when the conference schedule opens next week at Indiana.
The passing game regained traction after three underwhelming weeks. In the quarterback race, Matt McGloin (14 of 17 passing for 220 yards, 3 TDs) bested Rob Bolden (7 of 13 for 115 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT), though neither the assistant coaches nor the quarterbacks offered hints whether the team’s two-man system would be abandoned.
Instead, most of the talk afterward was about the injuries. Not only are Mauti and Lynn key players, but role models on a defense off to a solid start this season.
Lynn was released from Mount Nittany Medical Center a couple hours after the game. In a scary scene, the senior was carted off the field, and doctors later checked his neck and spinal column. Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said afterward Lynn suffered “burners” down both arms.
Lynn will be evaluated by doctors throughout the week, the team said Sunday,
“But, I think there’s a lot of ways to handle adversity. You can feel sorry for yourself or it can bind you together and a couple of guys to rise to the occasion and say, ‘Hey … I’ve got to do a little bit more. I’ve got to be a little bit better,”‘ Paterno said. “Hopefully, we’ll have some guys who will do that.”
Stupar, for one, stepped up against Eastern Michigan.
A part-time starter or key reserve his first three seasons in Happy Valley, the affable Stupar didn’t move up to full-time status as he had hoped this year when Paterno opted against shifting Mauti from outside linebacker to the middle. Instead, Mauti stayed put and sophomore Glenn Carson has taken over at middle linebacker.
It’s the second major knee injury for Mauti in three seasons. Mauti tore the ACL in his right knee in training camp in 2009, forcing him to sit out that campaign. This time, Mauti’s left knee buckled in the open field after trying to cut back to the ball.
The stoic Mauti buried his face under a towel on the bench as teammate after teammate came over to console him.
Now, Bradley will rely on Stupar, a State College native, to take over for Mauti. Stupar finished with a game-high seven tackles — three for a loss — and a sack against Eastern Michigan. Either safety Nick Sukay or Stupar could take over the on-field defensive play-calling duties for Mauti, the team’s leading tackler.
“It’s sad that happened, you never want someone to go down like that,” Stupar said.
At the same time, he’s hoping to make the best of another shot at starting.
“It gives me a little hope going into the future,” he said. “I’m excited to see what our defense can do in the future.”
While Penn State lost two players Saturday, the team did get its head coach back on the sideline, at least for the first half. Paterno, recovering from right shoulder and pelvis injuries sustained after getting accidentally hit in practice Aug. 7, spent the first half on the sideline before going to the press box after halftime. The Hall of Famer said he was sore, especially since he’s trying to recover without pain medication and wants to walk without a cane.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)