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Penn State defense still faces challenges, even with injury to Purdue receiver Rondale Moore

Penn State coach James Franklin knows his defense still has a challenge on its hands, even though Purdue won't have star wideout Rondale Moore.

Head coach James Franklin looks on during Penn State's 45-13 win over Buffalo on Sept. 7.
Head coach James Franklin looks on during Penn State's 45-13 win over Buffalo on Sept. 7.Read moreSteve Luciano / AP

On some level, Penn State’s players and coaches probably wish Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore was playing on Saturday.

They –– along with the rest of the country –– watched him break onto the scene last season when the Boilermakers upset then-No. 2 Ohio State. It was Moore’s second touchdown of the night that delivered the final blow to the Buckeyes and proved he was going to be a special player to watch for the next few seasons.

On one hand, Penn State’s defense and special teams coaches can probably breathe a little easier knowing they won’t have to game-plan for Moore’s combination of speed and power. But there’s also the part of them that relishes the challenge of facing one of the more dynamic playmakers in the Big Ten (and maybe college football).

“To be honest with you, I think our players and our staff would like for [Moore] to be playing in the game,” James Franklin said Tuesday. “You know, you come to Penn State because you want to play against the best players and you want to play against the best teams. I think it's great for college football. I think it's great for us.”

“At the same time, it’s like, OK, he’s not playing, so that helps us,” defensive tackle Robert Windsor added. “But another time, we’re like, we want him to play and be able to stop him because that just shows how good we are. So it’s like a double-edged sword.”

Moore led the NCAA in catches as a freshman last season and set a Purdue record for all-purpose yards. He was electric a few weeks ago when the Boilermakers beat Vanderbilt, 42-24, recording 220 receiving yards on 13 catches. But he left last week’s game against Minnesota with a leg injury and has been ruled out for Saturday’s game.

“From what we've heard, we're happy because it didn't sound like it's a season-ending injury, which is great,” Franklin said. “I think it's great for college football and I think it's great for the Big Ten. He's a special, special player. Very talented. Fun to watch.”

But even though Moore won’t be on the field Saturday, Penn State’s defense still will have a challenge on its hands in Purdue (1-3). It’s not just Moore who has been ruled out, either –– quarterback Elijah Sindelar suffered a broken clavicle last week and will be out for the foreseeable future. There isn’t a whole lot of tape available on the players who will replace Moore and Sindelar.

“You know, the changes, you could make arguments whether it’s a positive for Penn State or not,” Franklin said, “But it is concerning when you watch tape, and you say, this is not, you know, the team that we are going to see on Saturday, not only from a personnel standpoint but also stylistically.”

Franklin also mentioned that the only tape that is valuable for them is from the second half of Purdue’s 38-31 loss to Minnesota last week when backup quarterback Jack Plummer entered the game to lead an offense that didn’t feature Moore. Plummer passed for 245 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

“On special teams, not having Rondale, that significantly impacts how they are going to call special teams,” Franklin said. “Same thing on offense. Who is going to play that role? Do they feel like they have someone that can play the role or are they going to play differently?”