This time of the year, teams are dealing with a multitude of injury issues or, in many cases around the country, opt-outs.
For Penn State, neither of those are looming issues ahead of Monday’s Rose Bowl matchup against Utah.
Sure, the team will be without Joey Porter Jr. and Parker Washington, who will be focusing on NFL Draft preparations while also dealing with lingering injuries. Porter missed time at the end of the season after having his appendix removed while Washington suffered a season-ending injury and missed the final two games of the season. It will be next man up at cornerback and wide receiver in their absences, but Penn State is seemingly at full strength at nearly every other position.
Offensive tackle Olu Fashanu will be a gam—time decision after missing the final four games of the season while dealing with an injury. It also looks as though fellow offensive tackle Caedan Wallace will be returning for the Rose Bowl after being seen practicing during open media periods this week.
Running back Keyvone Lee will also be returning to the backfield after his injury woes to join true freshmen standouts Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen for what could be a very impressive three-headed monster depending on how they distribute the trio’s workload.
Despite declaring for the NFL Draft, Nick Tarburton , Brenton Strange and Juice Scruggs will be playing. Their desire to finish what they started as speaks to the culture coach James Franklin has cultivated in Happy Valley.
Last year was the only season where opt-outs hindered Penn State’s preparation for their bowl and has routinely been a non-issue throughout his tenure. Even Saquon Barkley played in the Fiesta Bowl despite knowing he’d be one of the top draft picks months later.
Nobody can blame those who’ve opted-out, but even without Porter, the Penn State defense is in position to not skip a beat. It will turn to Kalen King and Johnny Dixon to replace Porter. The team will also be welcoming back defensive end Smith Vilbert who missed the entire regular season due to undisclosed reasons.
The last time Vilbert was on the field – last year’s Outback Bowl – he recorded three sacks.
Will he replicate that against the Utes? That remains to be seen, but added depth is never a bad thing.
Knowing you’re going into a bowl game at full strength or as close to it as they are is something that gives Penn State an edge over Utah who will be without three of their top contributors in tight end Dalton Kincaid, running back Tavion Thomas and cornerback Clark Phillips III.
Penn State will need every ounce of depth and every advantage they have to take down a quality Utah team.