UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — It’s been just over a year since P.J. Mustipher was injured at Iowa and lost for the season. Following his injury, the Nittany Lions defense would never be the same.
Now, the defense is back on track and so too is Mustipher, who has accumulated 17 total tackles on the season which ultimately will be his last with Penn State.
“I don’t have any more eligibility after this year, so I don’t want it to go to waste. I’m gonna soak it all up,” Mustipher said to reporters following practice Wednesday night.
Soak it up he has, though, what he’s really been good at soaking up hasn’t quite shown up in the box score. In fact, it goes largely unnoticed unless you watch the film.
“He may not show up dramatically on the stat sheet, but as a football program, as coaches and players, and I think when you talk to NFL people and truly study the game and understand how highly he’s playing and doing his job, there’s a ton of value in it,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said.
Pennsylvania is nicknamed the Keystone State and Franklin mentioned the relationship between the keystone and his football program with the team giving out The Keystone Award on offense, defense and special teams to those players, like Mustipher, who are the glue that hold things together.
That glue is what endeared the Penn State defense to Mustipher last season and why they struggled in his absence. The belief in Mustipher is program wide and it shows up big time on game days.
“Guys like PJ that as coaches, as players … you have a ton of confidence in this guy’s’ going to do his job day in and day out,” Franklin said.
Having Mustipher in the fold makes Franklin’s job much easier as with that trust comes responsibilities both on and off the field thanks in large part to his role as a captain this year.
“If you have really good players that are experienced, seasoned players who consistently do their jobs, especially at that position, it allows everything behind them to go right,” Franklin said. “It may be in the pass game where maybe he’s not getting the sack, but in a twist package where he’s drawing the double team or creating a pick that opens up a twist for a defensive end or three technique.”
That experience is important when it comes to games like Saturday’s against Michigan. The last time the Nittany Lions played at the Big House, they were victorious, though, that was in 2020 and there weren’t any fans in the stands.
This time, there will be 100,000 plus fans which is an atmosphere not uncommon for Penn State, but different because they’re in enemy territory. What benefits the Nittany Lions this time around is having a guy like Mustipher who’s been there before in 2018.
“A lot of teams don’t get this opportunity to play top-ranked teams in just a regular week so we’re excited for the matchup,” Mustipher said. “It is really why you come to Penn State, to play in these types of games.”
MORE FROM PRACTICE
- True Freshmen no more: “They’re not true freshman,” Franklin said of running backs Kaytron Allen and Nick Singleton. “It’s game 5 … They’re no longer rookies. They know what the expectations are and what it takes.”
- Injury talk? In this economy? Blasphemous: “You ask me a question about whether a guy’s gonna play, I’m gonna say yes, he’s going to play the game — whether he is or not,” Franklin said.
- Franklin on Tank Smith who saw time on special teams two weeks ago: “He’s an extremely valuable guy and has embraced his role, but I don’t, at this stage, see his role changing a whole lot as of right now.”
- Manny Diaz making his presence known: “He’s infectious. He’s really good in the meeting room at getting his point across … We can be what we wanna be, under him.”