With one of the youngest teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, Penn State coach James Franklin has had to build depth and leadership where he could find it among his younger players.
The Nittany Lions have suffered some heavy injuries at linebacker and along the offensive line, but they've managed to continue on a seven-game winning streak through October and November while developing quality depth.
"What we went through at linebacker, in the short term, it wasn't a whole lot of fun," Franklin said Tuesday. "But in the long term it's helped us because we have pretty good depth at that position. Same thing as what we're going through in the [offensive] line; in the long run, it's going to help us.
"I would say the same thing in the leadership perspective. We were forced to develop leadership through the younger players on our roster. In the long run, I think that's going to help us. As the season has progressed, that's helped us. As their careers progress, I think that's going to help us."
The Nittany Lions defense did an excellent job of stopping the run in the last four games. The unit held Purdue, Iowa, Indiana, and Rutgers to an aggregate 1.8 yards per carry. Even when you rule out six sacks during that time, the average still is impressive at 2.2 yards per carry.
"What we've been doing, stopping the run recently . . . when you can make people one-dimensional, that's going to be important this week. That's going to help you," Franklin said.
Von Walker, Penn State's special-teams captain for the last two years, suffered a season-ending injury last week against Rutgers.
"He's been a tremendous leader for us," Franklin said. "To say [his absence] is not going to have an effect - it is, no different than when we've lost starting offensive linemen. He's been a starter for us . . . one of our core special-teams guys."