Blue White Illustrated

November 2021

Penn State Sports Magazine

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6 6 N O V E M B E R 2 0 2 1 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M T he Penn State football program and its fans have had little reason to thank the Big Ten of late. Head coach James Franklin said in Septem- ber that the league's indecisive han- dling of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season cost Penn State the services of All-America linebacker Micah Par- sons, while fans have their own griev- ances, starting with the abundance of crossover games against Iowa. A lot of money comes from the league's television deal, though, which is one reason to appreciate the Big Ten, even with gritted teeth. Another reason is that the confer- ence inadvertently did Penn State a favor by reworking its 2021 schedule. You might recall reading in February that the Big Ten shuffled its football slate. The league stated that it tweaked the schedules "in order to accommo- date the following six games that ad- justed locations as a result of changes made during the 2020 scheduling process: Indiana-Michigan, Indiana- Michigan State, Michigan-Michigan State, Nebraska-Purdue, Nebraska- Wisconsin and Wisconsin-Purdue." The moves did not directly impact Penn State, but indirectly, they cer- tainly did. While many newlywed couples (and congrats to those of you who are reading this!) were no doubt irritated to learn that the team's day off had been moved from Oct. 2 to Oct. 16, it has turned into a blessing for the Nittany Lions, who are bruised and battered after a difficult six-game stretch to start what has been called the nation's toughest schedule. We learned during the bye week that senior defensive tackle PJ Mustipher is out for the season, and by the time you read this, we may have updates on how long the Lions will be without senior quarterback Sean Clifford, senior run- ning back John Lovett, junior running back Devyn Ford and senior safety Jonathan Sutherland, all of whom were hurt in the loss at Iowa. It's not exactly clear when the final three suffered their injuries, but Clif- ford was taken to the locker room in the middle of the second quarter and returned to the sideline after halftime without his jersey and helmet, while Mustipher remained down and had to be helped off the field after the game's fifth play. He later was seen pedaling an exercise bike on the sideline, trying to work through whatever lower-body ailment had knocked him out of the game. Those players aren't the only ones who've been ailing lately. Senior safety Jaquan Brisker was banged up dur- ing the Wisconsin game and has been playing through it ever since, and junior running back Noah Cain has bumps and bruises, too. Cain's injuries have kept him from building on the po- tential he displayed as a fresh- man. Then there's senior inside linebacker Ellis Brooks, who played against the Hawkeyes with a cast on his right hand. Other players are undoubt- edly nursing nagging injuries that the public will never know about. So, thank the Big Ten for putting the bye where it did, even if the league could have never known that it would be so beneficial to Franklin's bunch. A brutal homestretch awaits. Having come back from their bye week with a home game against Illinois, the Nittany Lions will then visit Ohio State to finish off the October schedule, followed by a November slate that features visits to Maryland and Michi- gan State, and home games against Rutgers and Michigan. Sporting a 5-1 record heading into the matchup against Illinois, Penn State entered the second half of the season with its biggest goals still ahead of it. But achieving those goals will not be easy if backups are forced into starting roles for an extended period. We won't know for a while just how banged-up the Nittany Lions really are, but it goes without saying that the Oct. 16 weekend offered a welcome respite. It's not every year that the idle week comes at the right time. But in this season, it did. And how the Nittany Lions come out of it will go a long way toward deciding whether this is a College Football Playoff team, a New Year's Six bowl squad, or one that is destined for the Outback or Citrus Bowl in Florida on New Year's Day. ■ O P I N I O N GREG PICKEL Timing Is Everything THE LAST WORD Senior defensive tackle PJ Mustipher had to leave the Iowa game early in the first quarter and didn't return. He is now out for the season. PHOTO BY STEVE MANUEL

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