When defensive end Ryan Buchholz isn't in the lineup, Penn State's defense feels shaky, according to linebacker Cam Brown. And it's noticeable.
The two games Buchholz missed were the two Penn State lost this season — against Ohio State, when he was injured, and Michigan State. Of course, the losses can't be completely credited to the redshirt sophomore's absence, but it played a role.
Buchholz returned in the last game of the regular season at Maryland, and the Nittany Lions are likely feeling confident with him listed listed as the first-team defensive end for the Fiesta Bowl Saturday against Washington.
"He could probably play the whole D-line if he wanted to," Brown, a sophomore, said. "Having him be there — it's a force."
In nine games this season, Buchholz recorded 17 total tackles, with 2.5 for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble against Akron in the first game of the season. The defensive end also recovered a fumble against Georgia State.
While Buchholz feels confident in his backups, he said it's frustrating watching the Nittany Lions lose when he can't do anything about it.
"If it were an injury where I could go back in, I'd probably try to force that, but I knew I couldn't," Buchholz said Thursday, "so it made it even more frustrating that I couldn't go back in there and help."
Buchholz said his teammates joked that they lost the game against the Buckeyes because of his absence. But there is some seriousness to that. Injuries plagued the then-No. 2 Nittany Lions and the game slipped away from them in the fourth quarter when they gave up a 15-point lead.
"I know they couldn't control it, but it was pretty frustrating to watch," said Buchholz, a Great Valley High School graduate. "I know it was harder on some of the guys because they got a lot more reps and were dying at the end of the Ohio State game."
But Buchholz was happy to return against Maryland and help shut down the Terrapins in a 66-3 rout.
"It was harder on a lot of the younger guys," he said, "so it was good that I can get in there and help them out, take some of the reps back."