UNIVERSITY PARK (AP) - The flashes of numbing pain increased for Silas Redd as he drew more carries, sensations he likened to getting hit on the funny bone but felt in his whole arm.
The "stinger" issues that bothered the second-year tailback against Northwestern haven't been serious enough to keep the tailback off the practice field - let alone Saturday's game against Illinois. Not when Redd and No. 21 Penn State want to prove their 7-1 start is no fluke.
Redd is part of a group of sophomores and juniors who have stepped up to fill key voids and help the Nittany Lions (4-0 Big Ten) take the Leaders Division lead midway through the conference schedule.
"Some people are telling me we still haven't gotten any respect, people calling it a fluke game," Redd said Wednesday, referring to last week's 34-24 win against Northwestern. "We're trying to build our own destiny here."
Tabbed to replace Penn State career leading rusher Evan Royster, Redd, touted recruit, has fulfilled expectations by running for a Big Ten-leading 869 yards on 165 carries.
Redd had at least 28 rushing attempts in each of the first three conference games before getting his career-high 164 yards against the Wildcats on 18 carries. As that game wore on, Redd felt pain more often on blocks or hits, so he apparently relinquished carries late to backup Stephfon Green.
Redd is making sure to ice himself down properly after games and midweek, and to stay off his feet or get in the hot tub when drills are done.
"I know my will power and the focus I have to make sure my body is right," Redd said, "so that's something I take upon myself to make sure I stay healthy."
Redd, by far, has been the offense's most valuable weapon, especially given the inconsistencies with the two-quarterback passing game. Often leading the way through the hole is junior Michael Zordich, a fiery fullback who has quickly become known for his fierce blocks and special teams tackles.
Illinois, tied for second in rushing defense in the league with Penn State at 101.9 yards a game, could be the next team getting a heavy dose of Zordich and a rested Redd.
"They may get into a thing where they just want to line up and pound the football," Illini coach Ron Zook said. "That's something our defense has to be ready for."
Other top Nittany Lions haven't been as fortunate with getting over injuries.
Linebacker Michael Mauti went down for the year in Week 4 with a left knee injury, but junior Gerald Hodges has stepped up to fill the role as the playmaking linebacker. Hodges had a breakout game against the Wildcats with 14 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a momentum-turning, 63-yard interception.
Junior Jordan Hill, who has emerged with Devon Still to form one of the best defensive tackle duos in the country, tipped the pass that led to Hodges' pick. Hill and Hodges were in the same recruiting class.
"When he first got here, here was actually a safety. He's one of those freak athletes," Hill said about the 6-foot-2, 234-pound Hodges. "You could tell he has a motor ... just seeing how he never got tired, no matter what the situation, he was still going full speed."
He seemingly hasn't slowed down on a Penn State defense ranked fifth in the FBS in scoring (13.1 points per game) and eighth in total yardage at 281.9.
Speed is Devon Smith's forte, too. The junior just might be the fastest man in the field Saturday. He was clocked his freshman year with a 40-yard dash time of 4.23 seconds.
Now Smith is finally taking advantage of an opportunity for more receptions with leading receiver Derek Moye (left foot) expected to miss a third straight game Saturday. The diminutive Smith - who's listed at 5-foot-7, 157 pounds - had a career-high 110 yards and a touchdown on six catches against Northwestern.
Don't doubt Smith's toughness, though. Coach Joe Paterno had a firsthand look on Aug. 7 after Smith accidentally ran over Paterno in preseason practice.
"When he first got recruited here, I was scared for him," said 6-foot-4 right tackle Chima Okoli, the unofficial team comedian. "But he has a big heart, that kid. I'm a big fan of his as well."
Notes: FB Joe Suhey sat out Saturday's game against Northwestern due to a shoulder injury but Paterno said Suhey should be available this week. ... Paterno said nickel back Malcolm Safety should also be ready Saturday after leaving last week's game with an apparent right leg injury. ... Paterno said CB Stephon Morris' availability is unclear due to an unspecified off-field issue.