The grind of a long college football season has taken its toll on Penn State's backfield ahead of its de facto Big Ten Leaders Division Championship game against Wisconsin on Saturday in Madison.
Starter Silas Redd, who posted five straight 100-yard games to open the Big Ten season, has been slowed by a collarbone injury suffered against Nebraska on Nov. 12. The sophomore was injured in the first half and sputtered to 53 yards on 15 carries against the Cornhuskers before seeing only eight carries for 63 yards against Ohio State last weekend. Coach Tom Bradley said at his weekly press conference on Tuesday that he expects Redd to play at Wisconsin, but not take contact this week in practice.
Senior Brandon Beachum, who held the role of Redd's primary back through Penn State's 14-10 win at Temple on Sept. 17, has been banged up, too. He sprained his ankle ahead of the Lions' 34-6 win against Eastern Michigan on Sept. 24 and didn't see the field again until Oct. 29 against Illinois. He hasn't been much of a factor since his return.
Luckily for Penn State, senior Stephfon Green and Curtis Dukes have stepped up at key moments to relieve their injured teammates. Green picked up Redd this past weekend at Ohio State by rushing for 93 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.
Dukes also served admirably as Redd's backup while Beachum was injured and before Green was welcomed back from a suspension for violating team rules. The sophomore carried nine times for 54 yards against Indiana on Oct. 1, then nine times for 60 yards against Iowa on Oct. 8.
Dukes remains the team's second leading rusher, and though he hasn't seen action in the last three games with Green's emergence, Bradley is hopeful he'll be able to help the Lions again in the future.
"I've talked to Curtis about that," Bradley said. "I think he's going to be a good back some day. Some of it's been based on ball security, which is a big thing for us. We can't afford turnovers. And I've talked to Curtis about that, but he's going to be a good back some day and he's going to get his chance soon."