Young Nittany Lions Ready To Thrive In Place Of Injured Starters
Penn State’s three-game winning streak has certainly been fun to watch, but it’s taken a significant physical toll on the Nittany Lions, claiming a number of notable starters. Injuries are nothing new in college football, and James Franklin will employ the “next man up” mantra as his team moves forward in preparation for Army. Here are a few noteworthy players to keep an eye on as an injured Nittany Lions squad takes the field this afternoon.
RB Mark Allen
Penn State’s “next man up” as Franklin alluded to will in fact be redshirt freshman running back Mark Allen, whose number was called after the injury bug plagued incumbent starter Akeel Lynch and freshman phenom Saquon Barkley. Standing 5-foot-6, Allen runs with a quick, elusive demeanor that makes him tough for opposing defenders to wrap up. Though fans have only seen a brief glimpse of Allen, Franklin has the utmost confidence in his young sparkplug running back to fill in admirably, ensuring that Penn State’s offense doesn’t skip a beat with Lynch and Barkley on the sideline.
“Losing two guys that were playing at a pretty high level, it was exciting to see Mark Allen come in and touch the ball and score a touchdown in his first touch,” Franklin said during his Tuesday press conference. “Obviously, [Allen and Nick Scott] were behind those other two guys on the depth chart for a reason, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have tremendous faith and belief in them, and think that they’re going to have an opportunity to do good things for us.”
Look for Allen to factor into the passing game against Army — an area he excelled in last weekend against San Diego State, where he scored his first career touchdown off of a short dump-off from Christian Hackenberg. Allen has the platform, now it’s time to see what he does with the spotlight fixated on him.
RB Nick Scott
Like Allen, Scott has had to remain patient this season, waiting in the wings as Lynch and Barkley shouldered the load. With the dynamic duo sidelined, it’s time for Scott to earn his stripes against Army and give his coaches a reason to keep him on the field. Scott has already made an impact in the return game, taking six kicks for 187 total yards in 2015. The same can’t be said for Scott offensively, as he’s only recorded seven carries all year. That’s bound to change against Army, meaning fans will get a taste of his change-of-pace slashing running style. Franklin touched on Scott’s unique running style on Tuesday.
“Nick Scott is, at this point of his career, probably more of the slasher. You can make the argument he may be our fastest guy, our biggest home run threat,” Franklin said. “Looking at him and Mark, they’re quite similar weight-wise, but Nick’s taller, So he’s a little bit lankier and angular in terms of his build. I think Nick has a chance to be a special running back for us as he continues to grow and get stronger.”
With Penn State’s marquee rushing duo relegated to the sideline, a new version of “slash-and-dash” may come to fruition with Allen and Scott handling the load for running game coordinator Herb Hand. Scott excels in space, and possesses innate breakaway speed — something he’ll look to showcase against the Black Knights.
S Troy Apke
Originally recruited as a wide receiver, the sophomore safety has flourished on the defensive side of the ball, providing a noticeable spark on special teams to complement. With hard-hitting Marcus Allen and veteran leader Jordan Lucas both potentially limited, Apke takes some of the reins in the defensive backfield — playing one of the most difficult positions on the field. He’s known for his tackling prowess, and he’ll be expected to step up defensing against the run, especially facing an ground-based offense like Army’s. Here’s what Franklin had to say about Allen’s replacement.
“He’s a guy that, when he came in here, everybody was impressed. He tested well with his numbers, he’s got a great frame. He’s very mature, very intelligent, and we had a need at safety,” Franklin said, discussing the decision to move Apke to the defensive side of the ball. “He’s a really good athlete. He’s a good kid who puts the team first, and he saw an opportunity. We don’t ever just tell these guys, ‘you’re playing safety.’ It’s more like, ‘are you open to moving to safety, this is why, and we think there is a great opportunity for you.’ Obviously, you have the skillset to do it and handle it, and it goes from there. Troy’s an example of that.”
Look for No. 28 to make his presence felt in the secondary, as he takes over for a pair of talented defenders.
Allen, Scott, and Apke are just three examples of players who will be expected to step up in relief of Penn State’s injured starters, with a handful of others also expected to factor in. Though the level of competition may not be Big Ten caliber, Army will serve as a suitable test for the newly-minted starters, especially those with little in-game experience.
With the injury status of Lynch, Barkley, Lucas, etc. up in the air, the spotlight shifts to Penn State’s young reserves. Keep an eye on them today against Army.