UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State outside linebacker Nate Stupar started seven games last year.
He had high expectations this season before losing his starting job at the beginning of preseason camp in August.
That's when linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden inserted sophomore Glenn Carson as the starter at middle linebacker and moved redshirt junior Mike Mauti back to strongside outside linebacker, where he played last season.
That last-minute switch relegated Stupar, a fifth-year senior, to a backup role behind Mauti, who had worked at middle linebacker this spring.
"I was disappointed obviously when that happened," said Stupar, who finished third on the team with 73 tackles a year ago. "I was frustrated. Who wouldn't be? It made me really come back and focus on who I was and what I needed to do to get better."
Stupar, from State College Area High School, reclaimed his old job Saturday in the Nittany Lions' 34-6 win against Eastern Michigan at Beaver Stadium, but not under the circumstances he would have preferred.
Mauti sustained a season-ending injury in the first quarter, tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Team doctor Wayne Sebastianelli said Sunday that Mauti would have surgery within two weeks and his rehabilitation would take a minimum of nine months.
"When that happens, you just got to go in there and try to get the guys focused again," Stupar said. "He was a big loss obviously, and just going in there and going, 'Hey, we've got to keep it together, keep on going, keep on trucking. He's hurt but I'm here.'"
Stupar finished with a team-leading seven tackles, including three for loss, and a sack in place of Mauti, who also sat out the 2009 season with an ACL injury to his right knee and missed parts of four games last year with a shoulder injury.
"I'm really disappointed and sad that he got hurt," Stupar said. "I was watching him that play and [there was] no contact or anything."
The Penn State defense also lost senior cornerback D'Anton Lynn Saturday. He was released from a hospital following the game after being checked for neck, head and spinal cord injuries. Lynn's playing status was unknown Sunday night..
"Stupar is definitely a leader," junior weakside outside linebacker Gerald Hodges said. "He knows a lot. He's real smart. He's definitely smart on the field. With Stupar coming in, hopefully, more than likely, we won't miss a beat. He's just as good as Mauti."
"I think [Stupar] had a great performance," senior defensive end Jack Crawford said. "He is one of those guys who is very vocal and he is very enthusiastic. He is one of those players you can count on to not skip a beat. He was playing out there for Mauti, and I think he did Mauti proud."
Stupar (6-1, 234 pounds) concedes that he is not in the same class as Mauti, a preseason candidate for the Butkus Award and Nagurski Trophy.
"The first day Mauti stepped onto the campus, I knew he was a competitor," Stupar said. "And I just thank God that he came here, because he made me a better football player.
"He made me [reach] the skill levels I'm at today. Even last year, me and him, fighting for position -- starting, not starting, starting, not starting.
"He just made me such a better player."
Stupar is expected to make his 10th career start Saturday when Penn State (3-1) opens Big Ten Conference play at Indiana. Redshirt freshman backup outside linebacker Mike Hull, from Canon-McMillan High School, also is expected to see more playing time.
"Obviously, it didn't work for me in preseason," Stupar said. "My dad [Steve] always told me to keep my head up, that there's always going to be an opportunity for you sometime."
Ron Musselman: email@example.com and Twitter @rmusselmanppg.