The forecasted cloudy skies gave way to pleasant afternoon sunshine following Penn State's 34-6 victory over visiting Eastern Michigan Saturday, but a cloud of gloom cast over the team following the game due to demoralizing injuries to linebacker Michael Mauti and cornerback D'Anton Lynn, two of the Nittany Lions' top defenders.
"(They are) obviously two of our better players," Joe Paterno said after the game. "But that's the way it goes. I feel sorry for the kids. They've both worked awfully hard. It kind of takes a little bit off the win, but that's the way it goes."
During Eastern Michigan's third drive of the game, Mauti, the poster boy of Penn State's defense, was shuffling side-to-side while reading the Eagles' offense. Without being touched, Mauti's left foot planted in the Beaver Stadium grass, and he fell to the ground grasping his knee. He eventually walked to the locker room under his own power, shooing photographers away in the process. But initial reports indicated that Mauti suffered a tear of his left anterior cruciate ligament, an injury that will sideline him for the remainder of the season.
"I think we've lost Mike for the year," Paterno added. "I haven't had a chance to talk to (Dr. Sebastianelli) because he's not in there, but he's got an ACL."
Filling in for the injured Butkus award candidate was Nate Stupar, who had his best game of the season. Stupar finished the day with a team-high seven tackles - three of them for a loss - and one sack for a six-yard loss. As the starting Sam linebacker now, it is a bittersweet opportunity for the fifth-year senior, but Stupar said he is up for the challenge.
"It really is conflicting because I'm a fifth year senior, and I want to be playing, I want to be out there," Stupar said. "I just have to step in and act like nothing happened. I have to come in there and do what he was doing, get interceptions tackles for a loss and just make plays."
Prior to the injury, Mauti was leading the team with 21 tackles on the season and one interception.
The Nittany Lion defense suffered another frightening scare late in the third quarter when Lynn was left lying on the field after attempting a tackle on an Eastern Michigan ball carrier. Lunging to make the tackle, the crown of Lynn's helmet collided with another player, leaving the defensive standout motionless on the field. He was carted off on a stretcher moments later in front of a silent Beaver Stadium.
"It definitely is mindboggling when you see one of your players go down like that," linebacker Gerald Hodges said. "Most of the time when they bring the board out it's a serious injury. We just pray for him and hope everything is alright with him."
After the game, defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said Lynn's injury wasn't as severe as Mauti's, and it likely was a "major stinger." The stretcher was for precautionary reasons, said Bradley.
"D'Anton is the heart and soul of that secondary," Bradley said. "He's a three-year starter, does everything the right way."
It is uncertain how many games, if any, Lynn will miss, but true freshman Adrian Amos will likely see an increase of playing time in his absence. Bradley also said Derrick Thomas could see a more significant role if Lynn is unable to participate in next week's game.