"Excited" is probably an understatement to describe how Marcus Allen felt as he took the field for the first time as a starter for Penn State. The freshman from Maryland was taking over for senior leader Ryan Keiser, and was doing so in Penn State's biggest game of the season. Against Ohio State, the young defensive back displayed terrific overall ability, filling his stat line with 11 tackles and two passes defended. Despite the fact that the Buckeyes came out on top in the end, Allen accomplished the main goal that all freshman starters have- don't lose the game.
After his impressive debut performance in the starting role, Allen retained said spot for the following week's clash with his hometown team, the Terrapins of Maryland. Although his impact wasn't felt as much in the box score (unless you count his multiple penalties), he put up another solid performance.
After watching these two games, the eccentric Marcus Allen has quickly emerged as a favorite player of mine. His personality on the field, both in play and demeanor, is what I love to see. He has total confidence in himself, and it is very apparent. Marcus Allen has the potential to become a special player for the Nittany Lions, and that potential has been on display during his first two collegiate starts.
At only 18 years old (born 8/7/96), Allen already displays a pretty impressive understanding of open-field angles, which allows him to attack plays properly. Whereas most players his age may struggle with taking the correct reads into lanes, Marcus excels. This skill was on full display against Ohio State, a team that makes reads extremely difficult on the defense with the way their offense runs.
As seen in the above video, Marcus Allen already makes quick reads and attacks his target downhill. Even the most seasoned of players have trouble with some of the stuff OSU does on offense, but Marcus didn't seem to have much trouble with it. He may have had his fair share of false steps (moving in the incorrect direction) but he ended up in the right spot by the end of the play without giving up additional yards more often than not. As is shown in Allen's play below, he is outstanding at diagnosing who the ball carrier is, and going after him for the tackle.
Now, this may not seem like a difficult read, but the patience here is key. Allen stays patiently stays home, and holds his ground against Barrett. A simple play, but a very good one. Plays like this one are commonplace for #2. Marcus has the ability to make far more difficult reads as well, though. On a play vs Maryland in the redzone, the Terps ran a complicated inside zone run, which Allen read perfectly. Had he not read this (below) as well he did, it's a well-executed Maryland TD.
There's a ton going on in this play. Allen could have easily taken the wrong read and chased down the RB allowing the QB to get extra yardage on the play. However, he saw the QB keeper and was able to key on him, saving a touchdown. These kind of plays are customary of an experienced upperclassman, not a true freshman. Allen's ability to make both the simple reads, and the complex reads, has been amazing to watch.
Range and Open Field Skills
Another thing that certainly pops off the tape with Marcus Allen is his athleticism. He impresses with both his lateral movements from sideline to sideline, and in his closing speed. This is showcased both on run and pass plays, and it's another key reason for his success.
In this play, Allen begins all the way back at centerfield. But look at where he ends up. That's some serious range. The amount of space he covered to track down the ball is unbelievable. Not many players have the athleticism to get there in time to deflect the ball like he did. That ability to cover space also translates to the short passing/screen game as well. Once again, look at where he starts, then where he ends up. Consider the space he covered coming from his pre-snap position, deep in the secondary.
Marcus Allen has impressive downhill ability, despite his somewhat slight build. Much like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix during his sophomore year at Alabama, Allen has a tendency to dive into the ball carrier instead of driving through him. An example of this can be seen here. The concern is that if he does this versus a powerful back like Todd Gurley, Allen is going to end up rubble on the ground. You can seen just a bit of the potentially dangerous play here as he gets run over, though he makes the tackle.
While this tendency has the potential to be dangerous both for Allen and for the defense, there are still positives to be drawn from it. Despite the fact that Allen's technique still needs refining, he is still succeeding in his role. The aforementioned Clinton-Dix was eventually able to adjust his tackling style, which not only led to him becoming an even more aggressive and successful safety, but also to becoming a first round NFL draft pick. If Allen can follow a similar path in his development, he could very well be looking at a similar future.
As he is right now though, one thing is clear: though he may be a bit tentative in his tackling, he is completely fearless in his pursuit.
There's no hesitance in Allen's pursuit of the ball carrier. He's a tenacious player who will eat blocks if it results in helping his team get the guy down. He's selfless and vicious coming downhill. Playing with heart and confidence, there's little to stop the athletic freshman from bringing down the ball carrier. Below is a highlight of some of the better downhill stops Allen made in the two games, showing off his best traits and instincts.
It is crystal clear that Marcus Allen has a bright future, and we here at BSD look forward to watching his development these next couple of years. Big Ten offensive coordinators, though? They're probably not as excited.