The Return of P.J. Mustipher
Penn State’s defense lost its catalyst when Mustipher exited the Iowa game with a knee injury that ended his 2021 season. Things were just never the same after that. Mustipher was such a dominant force in the trenches he made all three levels of the defense much better - oftentimes, quietly doing the dirty work to put the others in position to make plays. The pass rush suffered, it became much easier for blockers to get to the second level and take the linebackers out of the play, and quarterbacks were able to find more holes in pass coverage thanks to all that extra time in the pocket.
Fortunately, Mustipher is expected to be back in time for the season opener. They will need him from the start, as Penn State begins the season at Purdue, which will be a challenging opponent under the lights of Ross-Ade Stadium. If Mustipher returns at full strenght (or at least very close to it), the Nittany Lions will benefit from arguably the best defensive lineman in the Big Ten,
Ji’ayir Brown is Back
Brown joined fellow Lackawanna Junior College alum Jaquan Brisker in 2021 to give Penn State its best safety duo in recent memory. While Brisker has moved on to the NFL where he is preparing to battle for a starting spot on the Bears defense, Brown is back to help lead the secondary after an impactful first season in Happy Valley.
Brown started of the season with a bang, coming up with a huge interception that was instrumental in the season opening victory at Wisconsin. It was his first of six interceptions on the season, which tied him for first in the nation. He also forced two fumbles, and finished third on the team with 73 tackles. Brown’s biggest highlight of the season was an 81-yard pick six to seal the victory over Maryland, which lead him to be named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week.
Brown proved to be an essential playmaker in his first season as a Nittany Lion. This season should see him among the top safeties in the nation.
An Infusion of Star Power on the Edges
Penn State’s pass rush has been boom or bust the past few seasons. It has the potential to become much more reliable, and hopefully back to the not-so-distant days when the Nittany Lions ranked at or near the top of the nation in sacks.
One big reason for this is the addition of true freshman Dani Dennis-Sutton, a five-star prospect ranked as the #29 overall player in his class, as well as the top defensive lineman. He checks all the boxes you want for a dangerous pass rusher - wildly athletic, a sub 5.0 40 times that also allows him to drop into coverage, length, excellent hand work for a someone coming out of high school, as well as a high football IQ and the desire to always improve.
Joining Dennis-Sutton is Chop Robinson, another five-star prospect with immense potential. Robinson came to Happy Valley via the transfer portal. He spent his true freshman season at Maryland, where he eventually looked up and thought “Wait, why the hell am I a Terp?” and headed West. Robinson played in all 13 games for Maryland in 2021, recording 19 tackles and two sacks. Another year of experience and a new setting could see those numbers increase dramatically this fall.