A teammate rolled over Jordan Hill’s left knee, causing one of Penn State’s top players to fall to the damp Ross-Ade Stadium grass.
Defensive tackles spend large chunks of games on the bottom of piles. But after four years of quickly returning to his feet, this time, Hill remained on the ground.
Penn State’s medical staff scurried toward Hill. Coach Bill O’Brien joined the circle, dropping to a knee as athletic trainers and doctors examined the senior.
Some teammates pondered the grimmest of possibilities.
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“I wasn’t sure,” redshirt freshman defensive end Deion Barnes said. “I went down and prayed that he was going to be able to get help. He has a bright future. I wouldn’t want to have him have his career shortened because of a play like that.”
The second-quarter play would be the final snap involving Hill in Saturday’s 34-9 victory over Purdue. Hill left the field in a green cart. He rejoined teammates on the sideline in the second half and was walking without crutches after the game.
The initial diagnosis was a sprained knee. Hill said he will likely have an MRI later this week. Both Hill and O’Brien sounded optimistic the injury didn’t cause any major ligament damage.
“Right now, I would say no,” O’Brien said. “But I really don’t know. You have to give me a couple of days on that.”
The situation scared everybody on the Penn State sideline.
“A lot of people started wondering and thinking what could happen,” sophomore cornerback Adrian Amos said. “I just sat there and prayed for Jordan to be all right. But we had to move on. We had a game to play. We can’t dwell on it. Hopefully he’s fine.”
Penn State’s defense honored Hill in the best possible way. The unit held the Boilermakers scoreless in the second and third quarters. Purdue scored its only touchdown on Caleb Terbush’s 2-yard pass to Antavian Edison on the game’s final play. The touchdown drive came against many of Penn State’s defensive reserves.
James Terry, a senior who has spent his entire career behind Hill and other talented defensive tackles, and sophomore Kyle Baublitz occupied the spot beside junior defensive tackle DaQuan Jones. The trio helped Penn State collect seven tackles for losses and hold the Boilermakers to 87 rushing yards on 26 carries.
“We are a team,” Terry said. “We play through everything, thick and thin. We fight together as one. One of our brothers went down and we picked it up for him.”
Hill admired the effort, joking with teammates on the sidelines and after the game. He chatted with reporters and embraced supporters outside the team bus.
“He’s not down at all,” Terry said. “He’s just pumping up the team like he’s supposed to do.
The defense responded to Hill’s injury and allowing a season-high 35 points last week against Ohio State with one of its best performances. The Boilermakers had multiple short fields in the first half, beginning five drives between the 40-yard lines. But all they could muster was a short field goal early in the first quarter. For the game, Purdue converted just 7 of 21 third-down attempts.
“I put them in some tough spots going for it a couple of times and it didn’t work out great,” O’Brien said. “They played well. They ran to the football, they played with a lot of energy and they have done that pretty much all year.”