Penn State safety Marcus Allen, a mere sophomore, is way too young to feel nostalgic. Yet there will at least be a hint of that when he and his teammates face Maryland on Saturday in Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium.
As a junior at Dr. Henry Wise High School in 2012, Allen, a native of Upper Maryland, Md., played in the 4A state championship game in the very same venue.
“It means a lot (to return),” he said in a conference call with reporters earlier this week, adding that he expects several friends and family members to be on hand. Because of that, he said, “I’m going to try and play with a lot of emotion, and just have fun out there.”
Allen, one of nine Nittany Lions from Maryland, has fond memories of Wise’s 12-7 victory over Quince Orchard in the ’12 final. Quarterback Isaiah Black threw the decisive 24-yard touchdown pass to tight end Micah Till with 2:14 left, capping a 10-play, 80-yard drive, and cornerback Joseph Shelton made the game-clinching interception at the goal line in the closing seconds.
Anything else come to mind?
“Just everybody being happy that we won,” Allen said.
He said Maryland recruited him hard, but he “just fell in love with Penn State.” He became a starter midway through his freshman season in 2014, meaning he saw extensive action when the Terps beat the Lions 20-19 last Nov. 1 in Beaver Stadium.
That game will be remembered primarily for being Maryland’s first victory over PSU since 1961. It will also be remembered as the game that saw the Terps’ captains refuse to shake hands with their Lions counterparts beforehand (something that evoked postgame apologies from Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson and then-coach Randy Edsall).
This year, Allen said, “We’re going to play with a chip on our shoulder — just try to play to our best ability. It’s just another game. We’re going to have to just play to our best. … We’re just going to play it as a regular game. We’ve just got to play to the best of our abilities.”
The Lions (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) are coming off a 38-10 loss to top-ranked Ohio State, a game in which they surrendered 429 yards. The defense, while still formidable, is a notch below the level it reached last season. It is ranked 16th in the nation in yardage allowed (297.6) and is tied for 20th in points yielded (17.7).
“I’d just say we have a lot of stuff to work on,” Allen said. “We didn’t play to our best ability (against the Buckeyes), and we’re going to work on that this week, and move on to the next game. … I’d say every aspect of our game has got to be improved.”
The Terps are coming off a bye, having forged a 21-all tie in the third quarter at Ohio State on Oct. 10 before losing, 49-28. They also have a new head coach, as offensive coordinator Mike Locksley replaced Edsall on an interim basis after he was fired on Oct. 13.
“One of the things that we're talking about as a staff is we have to be prepared for the onside kick, like Indiana did,” Lions coach James Franklin said. “We have to be prepared for the fake punts. We have to be prepared for the double passes. … You know, they got an opportunity to play Penn State and obviously get a win that's really important to them, and I could see them doing whatever they have to do to get it.”
More than anything else, PSU has to shore up its shoddy punting (35.9 average, 90th in the nation), especially given the fact that Maryland’s Will Likely averages 22.6 yards per return, and has taken two punts the distance.
Allen and Co., meanwhile, must focus on the running of Terps quarterback Perry Hills. While Hills has completed just 47.4 percent of his passes in three starts, he has rushed for 289 yards, averaging eight yards a pop.
But the Lions appear to be as focused on themselves as anything else. Allen, whose 38 tackles are fourth-most on the team, said he feels fine now, after missing a game earlier this season with what is believed to be a shoulder injury.
“I feel comfortable, but I believe I have more things to work on in my game,” he said. “Everything, all aspects of my game, need work in order to be the best safety I want to be.”
He can only hope to display such improvement in a familiar place, in front of several familiar faces.