While Penn State keeps on winning, it continues to lose members of its offensive line. And for coach James Franklin, it leaves him with a tough decision about playing freshmen he had planned to redshirt this season.
The line lost offensive tackle Paris Palmer - the fourth injury at that position this season - and freshman guard Connor McGovern on Saturday in a 45-31 victory over Indiana, the sixth straight win for the Nittany Lions, who are ranked ninth this week by the Associated Press.
Franklin, who is reluctant to talk about injuries, said Tuesday that Palmer is out for the season and that it was too soon to determine whether McGovern will be able to play Saturday night at Rutgers.
Two other offensive tackles, starter Andrew Nelson and backup Chance Sorrell, also are out for the season, with Franklin saying that Sorrell's injury is career-ending. Brendan Mahon, the Lions' other starting offensive tackle, hasn't played since the first series of the Nov. 5 Iowa game, but Franklin did not talk about whether he was available for this weekend.
"We'll see how that goes," he said at his weekly teleconference. "In the past, I didn't answer [injury questions] at all. If a guy does have a season-ending injury, I'll give you that. You guys still want more and I get that, but that's as far as we'll go. We'll see what happens with Mahon."
Mahon was admitted to Hershey Medical Center on Nov. 8, but Franklin has remained mum on why he was admitted or whether he has been discharged.
The injuries Saturday forced offensive line coach Matt Limegrover to make substitutions on the fly. Redshirt freshman Ryan Bates, who started every game at left guard, moved to Palmer's spot at left tackle, a position at which he only started practicing on the Monday of game week.
The situation has forced Franklin to consider removing the redshirts of some of his freshman lineman, especially 6-foot-6, 295-pound tackle Will Fries. The coach said that he had Fries and guard Michal Menet in his office to discuss the possibility, and that both would practice this week with the varsity.
"That conversation went really well," he said. "Both those young men and their families are perfectly comfortable with us doing whatever we have to do to win and put the team first.
"We are not, at this point, doing anything. Will Fries would be the guy that's a little closer than Michal Menet, not from a readiness standpoint, but just our real need is at offensive tackle. So we'll see how it plays out. You'd love to keep those guys as redshirts if you can."
McGovern was the first freshman lineman to lose his redshirt, starting the Oct. 1 game against Minnesota. In addition to deciding whether to play Fries and Menet, Franklin has another developing first-year tackle in Alex Gellerstedt.
"That's turned out to be a really good class," he said. "We're excited about those guys and their future. That's kind of the model. You either want to be playing true freshmen or you want to be redshirting true freshmen . . . Kind of going back and forth on how much they can help you as true freshmen and what's the cost-benefit ratio in playing them."
In other injury news, quarterback Trace McSorley, who took some shots on Saturday and left the game for one play to have his left ankle retaped, is "in good shape and he'll be ready" for Rutgers, Franklin said.