Penn State took a big hit from injuries during Saturday’s loss on the road to Iowa, but the first player it lost could be one of the hardest to replace.
On Wednesday, James Franklin announced that defensive tackle PJ Mustipher will be out for the season due to an injury suffered against the Hawkeyes.
Mustipher headed to the sidelines during the first drive of the game and didn’t return, standing beside his team with crutches for the duration of the contest.
The 2021 season was shaping up to be the best yet for the senior captain, as he had already broken career highs or was on pace to break them in numerous statistics.
The Nittany Lions recovered from losing Mustipher and played well against the Hawkeyes, but they’ll need to replace him for the rest of the season while also building depth at his position.
Also without redshirt sophomore Hakeem Beamon for an unspecified reason, defensive line coach John Scott Jr.'s interior already had depth issues before Mustipher went down.
Here are the most qualified candidates to step into Mustipher’s role.
Dvon Ellies, redshirt sophomore
Following Mustipher’s injury, Dvon Ellies was called upon to fill the void next to Derrick Tangelo for the majority of Saturday’s game.
Despite leaving the game for a short period of time with an injury himself, Ellies became a fixture in defensive coordinator Brent Pry’s group against Iowa.
The redshirt sophomore made four appearances through his first two seasons with the Nittany Lions, but he’s taken up a bigger role as a backup in 2021.
Ellies played in all of Penn State’s games so far, serving as the primary replacement for Tangelo and Mustipher, totaling five tackles and two quarterback hurries through the team’s six games.
It’s likely Pry will turn to Ellies as Mustipher’s replacement in the starting lineup, given he’s been the regular first substitute to roll in on the interior.
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Coziah Izzard, redshirt freshman
Following Ellies’ short-lived injury and Mustipher’s early exit, Coziah Izzard found himself receiving more playing time than usual in a high-stakes game.
Ater playing in just three games in 2020, the redshirt freshman has appeared in every game thus far for Penn State in 2021, totaling five tackles, a sack for an eight-yard loss and a quarterback hurry.
Izzard, alongside Ellies, saw the most time off the bench at defensive tackle, but it appeared Ellies had the edge when he was subbed into Saturday’s game immediately following Mustipher’s injury.
Knowing Mustipher won’t return this season, Franklin and Pry may be open to trying either Ellies or Izzard at the starting spot, and the latter certainly makes a case for himself based on his presence in the backfield.
No matter whether he earns the starting role or becomes a heavier rotational piece, expect Izzard to see more time.
Fred Hansard, redshirt senior
One of the most experienced defensive tackles out of the group, Fred Hansard failed to establish himself as a threat for playing time early in the season.
The redshirt senior only appeared in half of Penn State’s games in 2021 after making a case for a bigger role in his previous two seasons.
However, Hansard was called upon against the Hawkeyes, and he should expect to appear more often now that the Nittany Lions endured a key injury.
As Franklin discussed immediately after and in the days following the loss at Iowa, developing consistent depth players over the bye week will be extremely important as the season progresses.
Hansard could be turned to as one of those reserves, especially if Penn State is bit by the injury bug again, and he should be able to compete at a high level given his extensive experience around the program.
Nick Tarburton, redshirt junior
Pry decided to experiment with multiple different looks among his front seven in Penn State’s latest home game against Villanova.
One of those looks included shifting defensive end Nick Tarburton to the interior while defensive end/linebacker Jesse Luketa stepped up on the edge alongside Arnold Ebiketie.
Despite playing against a lower-caliber team level, Tarburton showed promise with his play on the interior, making him a candidate for extended time at the position.
After enduring injuries for most of his collegiate career, Tarburton earned extensive time at defensive end for the Nittany Lions through the first six games.
The coaching staff and players alike rave about Tarburton’s resiliency along with his work ethic, so there’s no questioning whether he'd be willing to make the move inside if needed for the rest of 2021.
So far in 2021, the redshirt junior totaled eight tackles, two pass breakups, a quarterback hurry and a fumble recovery.
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