What would have been a solid win at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, in the final game before heading into Big Ten play next week, ended up including two potentially devastating losses for the Nittany Lions.
During Penn State’s 34-6 win over Eastern Michigan, the Lions lost both linebacker Michael Mauti and cornerback D’Anton Lynn to injuries.
Late in the first quarter, Penn State’s leader in tackles, Mauti, went down to the turf with an injury to his left leg after attempting to make a cut. Coach Joe Paterno said the injury appears to be a torn anterior cruciate ligament and believes Mauti is lost for the season.
After being helped off to the sidelines by trainers, the redshirt junior was consoled by injured defensive end Pete Massaro and former Lions' quarterback Daryll Clark. Mauti walked off the field to the locker room, his left knee taped and iced with a towel draped over his head.
Then in the waning minutes of the third quarter, a collision after a Alex Gillett completion to the Eastern Michigan 43-yard line left the cornerback Lynn lying on the field. The senior lay motionless for minutes before the training staff carted him off the field on a stretcher. Paterno confirmed Lynn was able to move all of his extremities, but the defensive back was taken to the hospital with team doctor Wayne Sebastianelli for precautionary reasons.
“[Lynn] and Mauti have worked really hard,” Paterno said. “That’s taking a lot out of the fact that we won. And I thought that we played well, overall. They stayed up here all summer, worked hard. They’re leaders, and then one play and they’re out of there.”
Mauti entered Saturday’s game with three tackles for loss and one interception on the season. He was previously injured in 2009 when he tore the ACL in his right knee during a summer practice in 2009. The injury forced the linebacker to miss the entire season.
Saturday’s game was Lynn’s 30th-consecutive start for the Lions. He came into the game tied for the team lead in pass breakups with three, and had never before missed time with the Lions (3-1) because of injury. The most resent time he suffered an injury was in his junior year of high school when he missed the majority of the 2006 season.
Seeing Lynn motionless on the field gave defensive line coach Larry Johnson flashbacks of former Lion cornerback Adam Taliaferro who sustained and overcame a paralyzing spinal cord injury.
“The first thing I knew I had to do was to get guys together and start praying,” Johnson said. “It’s a rally cry. I think the players understand where they’re at on the field. The thing I said to them is, ‘We’ve got to continue playing because we’ve got to play for him now.’ ”
With Mauti out, fifth-year senior Nate Stupar took over without the defense missing a beat. The linebacker recorded a team-high seven tackles including one sack and three tackles for a loss.
Stupar was slotted to start during the preseason, but Mauti, Glenn Carson and Gerald Hodges ended up rounding out the linebacking core. It was obviously frustrating and disappointing to not be a starter, Stupar said. And though losing a teammate to injury is never a positive, Stupar said it gives him and the rest of the defense a chance to showcase its depth before Big Ten play against Indiana next Saturday.
“[Mauti] was a big loss, obviously,” Stupar said. “Just going in there and going ‘Hey, we got to keep it together, keep on going, keep on trucking.’ You just got to keep the mental mindset of ‘hey football game, injuries occur, put that to the side and just focus on the win.’ ”