The silence was deafening as Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti was carted off the field last Saturday.
You could almost feel every stomach in Beaver Stadium drop as the Lions’ fearless leader was taken from the field.
That iconic moment, saved in a picture of Mike Zordich running over to Mauti to shake his hand as the cart was starting to go, raises the question—how can you replace a player like Mauti?
The things he has done both on and off the field speak volumes about the character of the Penn State linebacker and his dedication to his school.
If you haven’t seen it already, this article goes into a little more depth about how Mauti was Penn State’s MVP before the season even began.
At this point in the year Mauti has led Penn State to a surprisingly strong season with his 95 tackles, 2.5 sacks, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and five pass deflections.
You can compare Mauti’s stats to Manti Te’o’s 98 tackles, 1.5 sacks and zero forced fumbles to see how well Mauti stands up with the top linebackers in the nation.
Again though, the question remains.
How can you replace someone like Mauti?
He is the heart and soul of Penn State and has been their emotional leader since the first week of the season.
This means that replacing a player like Mauti is has two facets—you have to replace the production and you have to replace the on field leadership.
Redshirt sophomore Mike Hull has been listed as the starting outside linebacker in Mauti’s place for this weekend.
Hull has 53 tackles, four sacks and an interception this season.
He is a strong replacement for Mauti and has seen time in every game, collecting 11 tackles against Indiana last weekend.
Despite losing a star outside linebacker who has started all year, Hull is a athletic linebacker that has the ability to step up in this extended role.
This Nittany Lion defense has five seniors that play major roles on the defense, most notably Gerald Hodges and Jordan Hill.
Along with adding to his outstanding production this year (105 tackles and two interceptions) on Saturday Hodges will most likely have to make all of the defensive calls that are usually made by Mauti.
This isn’t Hodges first rodeo though, and with his eyes set on going into the NFL next spring, this shouldn’t be a big challenge for the senior.
Hodges can’t fully replace what Mauti has been doing before snaps and in the defensive huddle all year, but he is going to need to be a leader to hold together the Penn State defense against Wisconsin.
We also mustn't forget that Mauti won’t be completely gone.
If you remember last season after Mauti was injured, he was on the sidelines with the coaches doing everything he could to give the defense an edge.
Don’t expect anything less from the fifth-year senior this Saturday, especially with it being Senior Day in Happy Valley.
Although Mauti won’t be on the field, his presence will most likely be felt in sideline huddles and during timeouts.
Realistically though, there is no way to fully replace Mauti.
That’s not to say that Hull isn’t talented and Hodges isn’t a good leader, but Mauti is simply one of the best Penn State has seen since Posluszny in both leading the team and playing.
On paper, Penn State will be able to replace Mauti with Hull and Hodges, and middle linebacker Glenn Carson also stepping up.
But throughout everything that Penn State Football has been through, Mauti has been the one to lead them out.
When Saturday comes along with emotions running high, a new on the field leader will have to emerge and push the Lions through any adversity they face against Wisconsin.
I think Hodges can be the player that can do it, but we’ll all have to wait until this weekend to find out.