PSU safeties ready to step up
STATE COLLEGE >> As an incoming freshman, Penn State safety Marcus Allen figured his transition to college football would be gradual.
Then he lowered his shoulder against bulldozing 240-pound teammate Zach Zwinak in a preseason practice and Penn State coaches realized immediately they could deploy the gutsy rookie as a weapon in the box. A few weeks later, he was creeping to the line to pop Ohio State’s equally vicious Ezekiel Elliott.
“I felt as though if I could hit Zwinak, I could hit anybody. That’s a truckload,” said Allen, now a junior. “Ezekiel Elliott, one of the best running backs out there. So having good contact with him gave me more confidence that I could play in this league.”
The Nittany Lions (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten) will need more of that from Allen and fellow safety Malik Golden against Minnesota (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten) and its twoheaded rushing attack as Penn State grasps for momentum in a season that’s soured quickly thanks to a long list of injuries.
Now without all of its starting linebackers, Penn State has allowed 326 rushing yards or more in two of its last three games, is coming off an embarrassing loss to No. 4 Michigan and faces the conference’s fifth-best rushing offense on Saturday.
As youngsters in front of them have whiffed again and again, Allen and Golden have combined for 57 tackles. They’ll have their eyes on Minnesota’s Rodney Smith and Kobe McCrary who’ve helped the Gophers rush for just over 228 yards per game.
“You talk about missing tackles, well, typically your linebackers are the unit that make the majority of your tackles,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “And we’ve lost our three starters.” THIRD-DOWN WOES >> Linebackers Nyeem WartmanWhite, Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda entered the season with 57 combined starts. Wartman-White is out for the season and Bell and Cabinda are out for this game.
Their replacements — Manny Bowen, Jake Cooper and former walk-on Brandon Smith — have just seven combined. The inexperience has shown on third down where opponents are converting nearly 40 percent of the time.
Minnesota’s Kobe McCrary rushes 50 yards for a touchdown, trailed by Indiana State linebacker Justin Hornsby, left, and defensive back Phil Wilson. Penn State will look to stop Minnesota’s two-headed rushing attack of Rodney Smith and McCrary on Saturday.