On a defense that included stud defensive end Garrett Sickels, bruising linebackers Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda, and shut-down cornerback John Reid, 3-year starter Marcus Allen made a strong case as the defensive MVP.
Marcus burst onto the scene in 2014, starting in place of the injured Ryan Keiser just in time for the Lions to host Ohio State. In a game that went to double overtime, Allen went ballistic, totaling 11 tackles in a losing effort. All told, he contributed 58 tackles in 2014, and was named to the BTN.com, ESPN.com and 247sports.com Big Ten All-Freshman Teams.
In 2015, Allen was ensconced as starter at strong safety, and bumped up his tackles to 81, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. Coming into 2016, Marcus was known as being extremely effective in the run game, including a penchant for delivering crushing blows. On the season Allen tallied 110 tackles, leading the second place tackler (one Brandon Bell) by a substantial margin.
One of the greatest things that Allen contributes his is vocal, flamboyant leadership style - Marcus can routinely be seen pumping up his teammates, and egging on the fans, including his signature move:
However, the real reasons that Marcus should get the nod as the MVP for the 2016 season are a pair of plays that will forever be remember by Penn State fans everywhere.
On the night of October 22, 2016, the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes came to visit Beaver Stadium, ranked #6 in the country. The Lions were 4-2 and unranked, having lost a heartbreaker at Pitt, and having been throttled by Michigan. The Buckeyes were favored by double digits, and with just over 4 and a half minutes left in the game, looked to bump a four-point lead up to a solid touchdown spread. After some hesitation by the OSU coaches, kicker Tyler Durbin rushed onto the field late and got set for a 45-yard field goal. The ball was snapped, the hold was good, and the kick was up -
- only to be met by a leaping Marcus Allen’s outstretched arms. The ball caromed off Allen, bounced twice off the lush green grass of Beaver Stadium, and was picked up by Grant Haley - who dutifully ran the ball back 65 yards for a touchdown, putting Penn State up 24-21. The Lions would hold on to win, and would premiere in the national rankings the following week.
The win over OSU helped springboard the team to an 8-game win streak, and an incredibly unlikely Big Ten East championship - after which a tough Wisconsin squad waited in the conference championship game. After getting down early in the game against the Badgers, Penn State battled back to take a 38-31 lead. Late in the fourth quarter and clinging to life, Wisconsin marched down the field, but was stymied at the Penn State 24 yard line. Facing 4th and 1, the Badgers turned to their bell cow, running back Corey Clement, and ran him to the right side of the line. Grant Haley cut under the blocking fullback, chipping at Clement and forcing him back inside -
- where he ran into the waiting arms of a crashing Marcus Allen. The fourth down attempt was no good, and Penn State ran out the clock to clinch their first undisputed Big Ten Championship since 1994, capping off an incredible nine-game win streak.
Without Marcus Allen, Penn State most likely loses to Ohio State in October. With a loss to Ohio State, Penn State is again looking at a third-place finish in the Big Ten East at best, and never sniffs the B1G Championship. They certainly don’t get to the Rose Bowl, one of the most entertaining and exciting bowl games you’ll ever see, even if it was a losing effort. They definitely do not finish the season ranked in the top 10, and would be flying well under the radar heading into what should be an incredibly fun 2017 season.
Oh, and that 2017 season? Marcus is coming back. Buckle your chinstraps everyone.