Everyone had grown used to Penn State safety Marcus Allen making splash plays as a freshman last season. But in the first two weeks of this one, he barely caused a ripple.
Three tackles in the loss to Temple. Six more in the uninspiring victory over Buffalo.
Where was the “undisputed quarterback of the defense,” as coordinator Bob Shoop called him in preseason? Where was the guy who last fall played as well as any safety in the country, as Shoop also said?
Then came last Saturday, when Allen reemerged with 11 stops in a 28-3 victory over Rutgers. Anything different?
“Everything was exactly the same,” he said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning.
That’s not completely true. Linebacker Brandon Bell and cornerback Grant Haley returned against the Scarlet Knights — Bell after missing the Buffalo game, Haley after sitting out the first two weeks, both with what are believed to be ankle injuries.
Also, linebackers Jason Cabinda and Troy Reeder, a pair of first-year starters, continued to settle in — Cabinda in the middle, after playing on the weak side previously.
And, Allen said, “I know we played with a chip on our shoulder.”
That has become a popular phrase this season among the Nittany Lions, ever since Media Day in early August. Yet Allen, who with his teammates will host 1-2 San Diego State on Saturday, insisted it was true.
“We played with more drive,” he said. “We played all together, as a team. To be honest I think as a team we just got together and just believed in ourselves, just took over and played to the ability we know we can play to. But the good thing is, we have so much more that we can work on, and become better. So that’s the positive.”
Asked where specifically the defense might improve, Allen pointed to “being specific in our craft” — watching more film, being more attentive to coaching, tending to small details. Coach James Franklin also noted in his news conference Tuesday that the Lions could tackle better, a point underscored when a Rutgers runner wriggled out of the end zone to avoid a safety in Saturday’s second half.
“Since camp we’ve been competing with each other,” Allen said. “We just had to get our feet wet and just see exactly what we could become. I think we’ve finally seen that. I think we’re just going to build on top of that, and just play with more confidence, and play to our abilities.”
And once more, about the chipped-shoulder thing …
“We have people that we want to play for,” he said. “I’m not going to get into details. … It’s just a lot of things that we have personally gone through in our lives or, like, as a team that we want to accomplish. That’s the chip that we put on our shoulders.”
There was a lot of talk the week about Bell emerging as an emotional leader, as the guy who sets the tone for everyone else with his fiery play. Allen said that he too plays with an edge, though he tries to check himself, tries to make sure he doesn’t get so emotional that he draws a penalty.
“The job gets to you so much that you just lose your mind,” he said. “That’s where your discipline and maturity come in and have to kick in. It’s easier said than done, once you’re out there, but we’ve definitely got to work on that also, just bring it down sometimes. You don’t want to bring it down too much.”
Allen said he is more confident this year than last, one in which he became a starter in mid-stream because of a career-ending injury to Ryan Keiser and made 58 tackles, tying him for third-most on the team. And his comfort level is that much greater, now that Haley is back.
“It’s like a band of brothers back there,” Allen said.