Penn State will be without one of its ‘Wild Dogs’ on Saturday when the team takes on No. 17 and unbeaten Minnesota.
Starting defensive tackle Antonio Shelton is suspended by the team after he appeared to spit on a Michigan State player, which led to him being removed from Penn State’s last contest.
Shelton has nine tackles this season including 2.5 for loss and half a sack.
But even without one of their key players, it doesn’t change much for the Nittany Lions defensive line.
“We are all approaching this week the way we approach every other week, it’s just that this week Antonio will be out so we will definitely have to step up,” defensive tackle Fred Hansard said.
While it may remain business as usual for the Nittany Lions, the loss of Shelton comes before a very tough matchup.
Minnesota has one of the largest offensive lines in the country, with its smallest starting member standing at 6-foot-5 and 305 pounds. Overall, the average height of the offensive line is 6-foot-6 with its tallest member, Daniel Faalele standing at 6-foot-9.
But the offensive line isn’t just tall, it’s strong. The average weight for the five starters is 340 pounds.
“They are massive, I mean, massive,” James Franklin said. “The right tackle is 6-9, 400 pounds and not heavy, if that's even possible to say. The guy next to him I think is 6-5, 350. They have the biggest offensive line I think in the country, college, including the NFL.”
And the Gopher offensive line isn’t just big, they are athletic and simply dominating teams in the trenches.
Minnesota is averaging over 200 rushing yards a game this season. The offensive line has also only given up 16 sacks.
“[P.J. Fleck] wants to dominate time of possession with their offensive line,” Franklin said. “Literally, if they get up by a lead early in the game, they are going to start milking the clock already. They are going to try to suffocate you with their offensive line, with their style of offense and with time of possession.”
The ‘Wild Dogs’ are now tasked with slowing down this machine, a battle that is crucial they win order to leave TCF Bank Stadium 9-0 and they have to do it down a man.
The good news for Penn State is the incredible depth they have along the defensive line.
Players like P.J. Mustipher, Rob Windsor and Hansard are going to have the opportunity to compete for more reps, to prove to the coaching staff they should get more reps every single week, despite who is out.
Instead of the suspension being looked at as a negative, the ‘Wild Dogs’ are looking at it as an opportunity.
“The coaches have been coming and telling me it's a great opportunity for me to get more reps and get out there more,” Hansard said. “It sucks that Antonio is out but in this situation, someone has to step up and I feel like I’m a guy that can do that.”
Franklin said that Mustipher and Windsor are expected to get about 15-20 more reps on Saturday with the absence of Shelton.
“We think that they can handle that,” Franklin said.
Franklin continued to say that Hansard and Judge Culpepper will also receive more snaps this week
“That dude is unmovable,” Gross-Matos said about Hansard. “You know, he comes off the ball, and sometimes he's getting double-teamed and you can see they are fighting as hard as they can, but Fred is not going anywhere. He doesn't jump out in the box score but he's always helping out the linebackers, not letting the guards get second level. He eats up his space for sure.”
For the rest of the defensive line and defense, it’s just business as usual, no matter who is on the field at defensive tackle.
But Gross-Matos is especially excited to see what Mustipher can do with the opportunity.
“As a unit and as a defense, I think we have the utmost confidence in P.J., and with [Antonio Shelton] not being able to start for us this week, there's no doubt in my mind he's going to come in and do his part,” Gross-Matos said. “Since he's been here, he comes into games, people see the flash.”
“P.J. is a big playmaker, and it's going to be an opportunity for him to really step into that role.”
The matchup in the trenches on Saturday is going to be one that could very well determine the game and how Penn State handles not having Shelton.
But the way Penn State handles its business, it’s a next-man-up mentality, and nobody involved in the program is worried, if anything, they are excited.
“I don't think we've seen an O-Line like this this year,” Franklin said. “But I'd also make the argument that I don't know if they have seen a D-Line like us before.”