Iowa left tackle Nolan MacMillan (76) takes over for Brandon Scherff, on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012, after Scherff was injured during first-half action against Penn St. (John Schultz / Quad-City Times)

John Schultz

IOWA CITY — Nolan MacMillan plans to be part of the solution for a short-handed Iowa offensive line.

Few Hawkeyes appreciate the feelings injured starters Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal are dealing with this week as they nurse injuries while their teammates prepare for another opponent.

MacMillan’s collegiate career has been filled with a multitude of setbacks, from a shoulder injury which knocked him out of the lineup midway through the 2010 season to a sports hernia which kept him off the field a year ago.

“You come to a place like this, you want to play,” MacMillan said. “Playing early was great, but I wasn’t able to stay healthy. When you’re out for a long period, there is frustration, and when you do get back out there, you don’t return at the level you were at when you left. It takes time, but it makes you appreciate the opportunities you have.”

He likely will get another opportunity Saturday when the Hawkeyes visit Northwestern at 11 a.m.

MacMillan is expected to make his first start in two years for Iowa.

He replaced Scherff at left tackle when he broke a bone in his leg during the first quarter of last week’s game against Penn State, but could end up at left guard if starter Matt Tobin shifts to tackle.

“I’m good with either one,” MacMillan said. “I’ve split my time about evenly between the two since I’ve been here, and I feel like I can go in and compete at either spot.”

MacMillan has proven that before.

He started the first six games of the 2010 season at right guard as a redshirt freshman before injuries sent him to the sidelines.

His work earned the 6-foot-6, 290-pound junior from Toronto mention on multiple freshman all-American teams.

“I came here because of the history Iowa has in developing linemen, and I’ve tried to learn every step along the way,” said MacMillan, one of three Canadians on the roster.

“It hasn’t always been easy. It’s been tough, working back and then waiting. All you can do is focus on each day, control what you can control and be ready when your time comes.”

His persistence is appreciated by teammates.

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“He’s a tough guy, a fighter,” starting right tackle Brett Van Sloten said. “He’s persevered through a lot. It’s good to see him progress.”

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz saw signs of that progress in the Penn State game.

“He went in and did a good job,” Ferentz said. “He was ready, mentally ready for it, and that’s the hope, that guys are ready when they are needed. He’s missed some time, but he’s practiced well and hopefully, we can keep him healthy because we’re going to need everybody’s best now.”

The injuries to Scherff and Donnal, who likely will be replaced by three-game starter Austin Blythe at right tackle, have left Iowa thin at the tackle positions on the offensive line.

Drew Clark was added to the two-deep roster this week as a backup to Blythe, and Ferentz said Jordan Walsh and Connor Boffeli are being prepped as well. Ferentz does not want to change redshirt plans for the true freshman linemen on the Iowa roster.

“The pool (of tackles) is a little shallower now,” Ferentz said. “We don’t have many left, but we’ll shuffle guys around a bit and come with a combination that works.”

MacMillan believes he is better prepared to compete now than he was when he made his last start for Iowa in a victory at Michigan.

“I feel like I know what I’m doing now. I have a better grasp of the scheme and physically, I’m more mature and capable,” MacMillan said. “That was a long time ago, but I feel good about getting a chance again and I want to make the most of it.”