Sep. 22—When Penn State defensive line coach John Scott Jr. watches PJ Mustipher and Adisa Isaac, he wonders how much more effective they're going to be once they return to full form.
Mustipher missed the second half of last season with a knee injury, and Isaac sat out the entire season after suffering a torn Achllies'.
They've managed to start all three games for the 14th-ranked Nittany Lions (3-0), who take on Central Michigan (1-2) Saturday at noon at Beaver Stadium (TV-BTN, WEEU-AM/830).
At tackle, Mustipher has anchored a run defense that has limited opponents to 3.3 yards per rush. At end, Isaac ranks among the Big Ten leaders with four tackles for loss, including one sack.
"Both of those young men are doing a really, really good job for us," Scott said Thursday during a conference call. "Any time you miss that amount of football, it's all those reps and conditioning you're missing and conditioning. It takes a little while to knock the rust off. You're starting to see that."
In addition, starting defensive tackle Hakeem Beamon missed last season because of an undisclosed reason. He practiced throughout the year.
Beamon has helped strengthen Penn State's interior defense, along with Mustipher, Dvon Ellies, Zane Durant and Jordan van den Berg. The Lions held Purdue, Ohio and Auburn to 93.0 rushing yards per game after they allowed 152.7 last year.
"Hakeem Beamon has been a guy who went through some adversity last year," Scott said. "He fought his way all the way back and earned the starting position. He's been a pleasure to have out there. He brings a lot of juice inside. He's cat-quick. He has a really, really good punch.
"I feel like that young man has a world of potential. He can be special."
Once Mustipher sustained his injury in the first quarter at Iowa, Penn State's rushing defense weakened. It was unclear then whether the senior would be ready for the season opener at Purdue three weeks ago, but he was in the lineup that night. Playing nose tackle, he often draws two blockers, which frees others to make tackles.
" I was proud of PJ's performance last week (at Auburn)," Scott said. "You can see some things happening. I'm excited about where he's trending."
Isaac, a redshirt junior, played in 11 games as a freshman in 2019 and in nine in 2020 before missing last season. He made his first career start at Purdue and registered his first sack in two years at Auburn.
"Sometimes we forget that Adisa hasn't played a lot of football," Scott said. "He's still a young player with so much potential to grow and develop. He's gotten better and better and better each game.
"You saw Chop (Robinson) and Adisa rushing off the edge in that fourth quarter at Purdue and you're thinking, 'Oh, yeah.' "
Robinson, a sophomore end and transfer from Maryland, already has made several big plays. He has two tackles for loss, one sack, two quarterback hurries, one pass breakup, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He punctuated the win over Purdue by bringing down quarterback Aidan O'Connell, who threw the football away on the game's final play.
"We're extremely excited and pleased that Chop is with us," Scott said. "He's providing a spark that we need. We knew that one of his great qualities was that he had potential to be a really good edge rusher.
"It's been a pleasure to have the young man be a part of our team. Chop is a great, great person. He's fun to coach."
The defense has responded well to new coordinator Manny Diaz, who likes to attack offenses from every angle. Penn State has a plus-4 turnover margin that's tied for the Big Ten lead and has 12 sacks, which is tied for 12th nationally.
"We're getting to a good spot," Scott said about the line. "We still continue to grow and get better. But I do feel like we're on track to be what we want to be and play the style of football we want to play."