IOWA CITY, Iowa – Offensive tackle Andrew Nelson, whose Penn State career has been derailed on more than one occasion by injuries, is hoping that he can stay healthy for the remainder of his final season as a Nittany Lion.
Nelson, a 6-foot-6, 305-pound redshirt senior, suffered a knee injury midway through last season, missed the final eight games, and was kept out of the 2017 season opener. He returned for the games against Pittsburgh and Georgia State splitting time at right tackle behind starter Chasz Wright, but started for the first time in 2017 Saturday night.
“I definitely feel better,” said Nelson, who also missed four games during his sophomore season because of an undisclosed injury. “There’s always kind of ups and downs when you’re coming back from injuries and stuff. But I’m feeling good this week. I have to give it to the trainers and the coaching staff; they’ve been doing a great job.”
Nelson said he now feels 100 percent. Part of it is having head coach James Franklin limiting his reps at practice but still allowing him to play.
“I have to thank Coach Franklin for the fact that he trusts me enough and that I have enough experience under my belt at this point with all the games that I’ve played in that he trusts me,” he said. “He’s like, ‘We’ll listen to your body and you let me know. We’ll get you out there and get you the reps that you need – no more, no less – so you can be ready for Saturday.’”
Fifth-year senior Brendan Mahon, who missed last week’s game against Georgia State with an undisclosed injury, returned to the starting lineup at right guard, allowing Steven Gonzalez to go back to his customary left guard position.
Junior defensive end Torrence Brown, who was injured in last week’s win over Georgia State, did not make the trip. Franklin has not disclosed the exact nature of the injury nor how long Brown will be out. Junior Ryan Buchholz (Great Valley) started in Brown’s place.
Shareef Miller, the George Washington High School product who starts at the defensive end position opposite of Brown, wore Brown’s No. 19 Saturday night in honor of his teammate. Miller normally wears No. 54.
Miller made the first hit on Akrum Wadley in the end zone that led to a safety for Penn State midway through the second quarter.
Iowa received significant contributions in the running game last week from freshmen Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin in its win over North Texas after its top two running backs, Akrum Wadley and James Butler, left the game with injuries.
Young rushed for 78 yards in 19 carries and Kelly-Martin went for 74 yards in 11 carries and scored two touchdowns.
“They’ve been practicing real well so we had high hopes for them,” Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said, “but you never know until a guy gets into a game. They both responded but the reality is, they’re both young guys. They haven’t played Penn State’s defense yet so we’ll see what they look like on Saturday.”
Wadley, Iowa’s leading rusher with 258 yards, recovered from his ankle injury and returned to the lineup Saturday night. However, Butler, the No. 2 rusher, suffered an elbow injury last week and is out for a few weeks.