Penn State has had its projected starting secondary together just once this season.
It appears that’s about to change.
Asked about injured safety Marcus Allen during a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning, cornerback Grant Haley said, “I think he’s ready, and he’s going to be fired up this week (for the homecoming game against Indiana).”
Allen was lost to an apparent shoulder injury in the first series of the victory over San Diego State two weeks ago, and did not play this past Saturday against Army.
If he does start — and coach James Franklin would only say Tuesday that he is “hopeful” of having Allen back (as well as tailback Saquon Barkley) — the defensive backfield will have all its pieces in place: Haley and Trevor Williams at cornerback, Allen and Jordan Lucas at safety. The only other time that has happened this fall was against Rutgers, on Sept. 19.
Haley missed the season’s first two games with what is believed to be an ankle injury. Lucas did not play against SDSU, because of an apparent shoulder injury.
Replacements like cornerback John Reid and safeties Troy Apke and Malik Golden have filled in ably, to the point that the Lions are 18th in the FBS in passing yards allowed (159.4) and 15th in total defense (284.0).
“It’s been an adjustment,” Haley said. “I think Coach (Bob) Shoop says it best: You have the next-man-up mentality.”
That is an ongoing theme for the Lions, who have also been struck by injuries to their offensive backfield, offensive line and linebacker corps.
“I think all of (the defensive backfield fill-ins) are reliable,” Haley said, “and I have faith in them, and I think they did a great job.”
But Lucas is in his third year as a starter. Allen, like Haley a sophomore, started the second half of last season, and drew rave reviews from Shoop.
“I know it’s been hard for him,” Haley said of Allen. “Me and Marcus are pretty close. We talk outside of practice. He does want to not feel like he’s letting anyone down.”
He also said Allen is Apke’s “biggest supporter.”
“But I think Marcus, just his fire and his passion to play the game, has helped him really get back in the training room and do what he’s got to do,” Haley said.
It figures to be a challenge on Saturday, no matter who is out there — on both sides. IU quarterback Nate Sudfeld and tailback Jordan Howard were both knocked out of Saturday’s loss to Ohio State with ankle injuries, and their status for this week is not yet known.
If Sudfeld cannot go, Zander Diamont will get the start. He is more of a running threat, as he showed while sprinting 79 yards for a touchdown in the 34-27 loss to the Buckeyes, part of his seven-carry, 98-yard day.
That accentuates further the Lions’ need to tackle better, a point Franklin made on his conference call Tuesday. The most glaring example was the miss by Lucas on a 56-yard touchdown run by Army quarterback A.J. Schurr last week, in PSU’s 20-14 escape.
“We’re the last line of defense, so we’ve got to be the most reliable and wrap up as good as we can,” Haley said.
Haley grew up in Atlanta, a multi-sport star and the son of two doctors. A centerfielder for the baseball team at the Lovett School, he started three years and drew the interest of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But by then football had already overtaken the summer game as his favorite sport.
“I think the thing that was different about baseball and football to me was just the atmosphere and the team environment,” he said. “In baseball, it is a team, but it wasn’t the same to me. It’s more of an individual sport in a lot of ways, whereas football, there’s 11 guys on the field right there. You have to work together as a unit. That’s always something I’ve grown up respecting.”
Now, he is just hoping to have his team within a team around him once again — that that quartet can bond together once more, and be what it was expected to be.