The story of Penn State’s loss to Iowa– a loss that started the Nittany Lions’ current three-game funk– was quarterback Sean Clifford leaving the game with an injury. That wasn’t the only medical misfortune the Nittany Lions suffered in Iowa City.
Penn State senior defensive tackle P.J. Mustipher, who was a force upfront during the team’s 5-0 start, went down with an injury on the fifth play of the game and didn’t return for the rest of the game. It turns out he won’t be back at all in 2021.
Without Mustipher, new Lions have had to step up on the defensive front, and two players who have a friendship that goes back to middle school have been called upon to help fill the 6-4, 326-pound void. Dvon Ellies, who was Mustipher’s high school teammate for three years, grew up in Burtonsville, Maryland. Coziah Izzard grew in in Columbia, Maryland, roughly 10 minutes away.
“I go a while back with Coziah,” Ellies said.
“That’s my guy,” Izzard said.
A three-year letterman in high school at McDonogh School in Owings Mills, Maryland, Ellies is a year younger than Mustipher.
Mustipher came to Penn State in 2018, and Ellies followed a year later. Ellies redshirted in 2019, appearing in one game. Last year, he appeared in three games and got his first career sack– tackling Rutgers quarterback Noah Verdel on the last play of Penn State’s 23-7 win.
He was used right away this season, playing 48 snaps against Wisconsin. After Mustipher went down against Iowa, Ellies ended up with his second-highest snap total (45), and he added 37 and 34 snaps against Illinois and Ohio State, respectively.
Everything he’s doing on the field right now, I can see him working just as hard as anyone else,” Izzard said. “He works hard; he’s a great teammate, always bringing good energy in practices and stuff and during the games.”
When Izzard, a product of the legendary DeMatha Catholic High School, was making his college choice, Ellies, a year Izzard’s senior, and Mustipher, two years ahead, both talked to him about this school as friends.
“Everything they told me about Penn State, everything I heard about it, it’s all I needed,” Izzard said.
After playing in three games as a freshman in 2020, Izzard struggled to make an impact early in 2021. Against Wisconsin, he played just three snaps. While his usage improved dramatically in Week 2 against Ball State (40 snaps), he was back down to four against Auburn the next week. Since Mustipher’s injury, Izzard’susage has gone up dramatically, with 107 combined snaps against Illinois and Ohio State in the two full games.
“If I have to step up, I have to step up,” Izzard said. “From that point on, it’s just the next-man-up mentality.”
Mustipher’s absence was noticeable in that Illinois game. The Illini ran for 357 yards on 67 carries in a shocking overtime upset that knocked the Nittany Lions out of College Football Playoff contention. Last week’s game at Ohio State was an improvement. Yes, Treveyon Henderson got his yards– 152 of them–, but the defensive front showed progress against the Buckeyes, only giving up one touchdown to Ohio State in six red-zone trips.
“We went through some growing pains, especially without (Mustipher) so, we’re progressively just getting better,” Ellies said. We’re trying to build off last week, and we’ll see Saturday.”
The two Maryland natives will play against the Terrapins this Saturday. As the season begins to wind down, the boyhood chums will hope to help Penn State heat back up.
“We’re just helping build off each other,” Ellies said. “Certain things he’s better at than I and certain things I’m better at that he, and we’re just using at and giving each other pointers here and there. There’s always room for improvement, and this time, more so than ever, it’s important for us to keep pushing each other in all aspects.”