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James Franklin expects injured Penn State starting OL back for Ohio State

Penn State football just got some huge news on the injury front.



Penn State football, Penn State starting OL, JB Nelson, Ohio State, James Franklin
Penn State offensive lineman JB Nelson (56) prepares for the start of a play during the first half of a NCAA football game against Delaware Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in State College, Pa.

We’re less than 72 hours away from kickoff between Penn State and Ohio State. One of the main storylines this week is the injuries on the Ohio State sideline. But the Nittany Lions are missing some key players as well. In particular, Penn State starting OL JB Nelson has been absent since he left early in the Northwestern game with an injury. While information regarding Nelson’s status has been hard to come by, we just got our best signal from James Franklin that the starting OL may return soon at Penn State football open practice on Wednesday night.

Penn State starting OL has been out with an injury since Northwestern

Penn State football has been fortunate to rest many of its starters early in games through the first half of the season. However, the Nittany Lions struggled with injury luck early during the Week 5 matchup at Northwestern. In the first half, Penn State lost star RB Kaytron Allen as well as starting OL JB Nelson.

While Franklin noted after that game that Nelson was back with the team, he has been absent ever since. The redshirt junior OL was not seen at the practice viewing sessions during the bye week or before UMass last Wednesday. Penn State listed Nelson as out for Saturday’s 63-0 win over the Minutemen.

During his weekly Tuesday press conference, James Franklin praised the play of redshirt freshman Vega Ioane, who started in Nelson’s place against UMass. Franklin did note that he expected Nelson back, although he didn’t provide a time frame.

“I think Vega is playing really well,” Franklin said. “I’m very pleased. We view Vega like we view [Drew] Shelton. Those guys are starters. If you look at him, he’s been playing starter’s reps or starting games anyway. So, yeah, he’s playing really well. Will continue to play for us, and we do expect to get JB back.”

James Franklin expects JB Nelson back for Ohio State

While the timeline for JB Nelson’s return has been unclear for the last two weeks, we got our first tangible evidence that the Penn State starting OL may soon return. On Wednesday evening, Nelson was seen as a full participant during the Nittany Lions’ open practice.

In media availability following practice, James Franklin indicated that he expects Nelson to play Saturday at Ohio State.

“We’ll see. He’s missed a little bit of time, so obviously, [we’re] getting him back in the mix and greased up and ready to go,” Franklin said when asked about Nelson’s status. “The good thing is Vega has played well. So obviously, [we’ll] be able to evaluate that throughout the week. I think they’re both going to play. So, we’ll see how it plays out.”

Even with limited snaps, getting Nelson back would be a huge boost for Penn State football ahead of its biggest game of the season. Ohio State comes into this game with statistically one of the best defenses in the country. So, having the offensive front as close to full strength as possible will be critical if James Franklin hopes to pull the upset in Columbus.

Kickoff between the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes is set for Saturday at noon on FOX.

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A third-generation Penn Stater, Matt is Editor-in-Chief for Basic Blues Nation, co-host of the podcast PSU Tailgate Talk, and a credentialed member of the Penn State football media. Matt also works as a staffer in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Matt lives in central Pennsylvania with his wife and a small army of pets.