With Penn State in its bye week this past Saturday, Nittany Lions safety Marcus Allen was free to watch on TV as Ohio State pulled out a 30-23 overtime victory over Wisconsin.
And as he told reporters Tuesday, he reached a conclusion heading into his team’s matchup with OSU this weekend (8 p.m., ABC).
“We definitely have a chance to compete with these guys,” he said. “Wisconsin opened up a big picture of what we can do against them. It just opened up a lot of things for us to look at, that gave Ohio State trouble.”
It doesn’t mean he’s predicting that the Lions (4-2) will beat the No. 2 Buckeyes (6-0). It just means he believes they have a chance — a chance to earn a much-needed signature victory.
Not that he believes it will be easy.
“I believe they’re the No. 2 team in the country, so you’ve got to give them respect,” he said. “Obviously they’re doing something right, but we’re just going to game plan and just try to find what we can do to beat those guys.”
And, he added, “We’ve just got to bring our whole ‘A’ game, because I know they’re not pushovers or anything.”
Not in the least. The Buckeyes lost eight starters on offense and eight more on defense from last year’s 12-1 outfit, and have hardly skipped a beat. They are fourth in the FBS in scoring (49.3 ppg) and fourth in rushing offense (300.5), and quarterback J.T. Barrett leads the Big Ten in passing efficiency.
And while the Lions will be playing before a sold-out White Out crowd in Beaver Stadium — “We’re going to have to use our fans,” Allen said — it’s worth noting that OSU has won 20 straight on the road, the longest active streak in the FBS. Seventeen of those have come in conference play, which ties the Big Ten record Michigan set from 1988-92.
As it happens, Allen attended a White Out against the Wolverines as a recruit in 2013. It was an unforgettable day, as PSU emerged with a 43-40 victory in quadruple overtime, and an unforgettable environment.
“It makes you want to … go there and be a part of something like that, and achieve something like that,” he said.
The Lions have not beaten Ohio State or Michigan since that day, losing their last three to the Wolverines, including last month’s 49-10 embarrassment in Ann Arbor, and their last four to the Buckeyes.
Allen’s first start as a freshman came two years ago against OSU, a 31-24 loss in double overtime in which he recorded 11 tackles. It is remembered by those in Happy Valley for two officiating decisions that didn’t go PSU’s way, and remembered by Allen for “no one dropping their head” after the Buckeyes got out to an early lead.
“Everybody was believing that we could win and trying to push forward for a win,” he said, adding that the fans were “really loud.”
He has been a starter since then, and this year he has 57 tackles, equaling the Big Ten’s second-highest total.
“I’m definitely more mature, and I know what I’m doing, basically,” he said. “I’m not going to come in there nervous or anything, because I’m a veteran.”
He might have more help than before, seeing as middle linebacker Jason Cabinda dropped hints on Twitter Monday that he will be available for the first time since suffering an undisclosed injury in the season opener. On Tuesday, head coach James Franklin said there was a chance Cabinda and fellow injured LBs Brandon Bell and Jake Cooper could all be back for the Buckeyes.
Whoever’s out there, Allen said, they will have to tackle better, especially in space, and create turnovers.
Speaking of which, here is an oddity: For as much and as well as Allen has played the last three years, he has yet to record an interception.
“When it comes, it will come,” he said. “I’m not going to try to force anything and mess up, and hurt my team.”
Everything in its time. The same might be said of a program-turning victory.