COLLEGE PARK, Md. – As one of James Franklin’s first recruits out of Maryland for Penn State, Marcus Allen has been referred to as the team’s “ambassador” to his home state.
Allen calls the designation “cool,” but he’s a lot more excited to be returning there Saturday with the Nittany Lions against Maryland in their final regular-season game.
“Just for me to play my last game in the regular season in my hometown, that’s pretty awesome,” said Allen, a senior free safety from Upper Marlboro. “That’s fun. It’s going to be like a backyard football game as far as me knowing a lot of guys on that team.
“We talk back and forth, talking our little stuff. Playing against Maryland, guys that I know, is always fun. So I’m pretty sure the stadium’s going to be riled up. There’s a lot of family members and friends that are going to be coming and supporting me, and Penn State.”
The Lions (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten), who are No. 10 in the College Football Playoff rankings and No. 12 in the Associated Press poll, have 13 players from Maryland. Add three more players from the Virginia suburbs of Washington, including quarterback Trace McSorley, and the area list swells to 16.
But it’s not just the players who are energized to be close to home competing at Maryland Stadium. Franklin spent a total of eight years as an assistant at Maryland, from 2000 through 2004 as wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator, and then from 2008 through 2010 as assistant head coach, offensive coordinator, and quarterbacks coach.
“It’s a place obviously that means a lot to me and has a special place in my heart because I spent a lot of time there,” Franklin said. “I’ve gotten a lot of emails and text messages and things like that. I still know a lot of people in that area.”
Franklin said that counting his cousins, aunts, and in-laws in the area, he could be using more than 20 tickets for the game.
Both Allen and linebacker Cam Brown have longtime friendships with Maryland running back Lorenzo Harrison, the team’s No. 2 rusher.
“I know him personally; our family and his family hang together,” Allen said. “They talk their stuff about Maryland; they talk their stuff about Penn State. It’s funny, especially after the game.”
Brown said he and Harrison played youth football together and would go up against each other at practice when Brown was at center and Harrison was the nose tackle.
“He’d have to run through me,” Brown said. “It used to be funny because I’d cut-[block] him at practice and our coach would get mad. We used to go back and forth.”
The Nittany Lions enter the game seeking their 10th win, which would mark the first time they have had back-to-back seasons of 10 or more wins since 2008 and 2009 and put them in line for a possible New Year’s Six bowl.
Meanwhile, the Terrapins (4-7, 2-6), who have lost six of their last seven games, are playing a ranked team for the sixth time this season and want to end the season on a positive note.
Penn State starting strong safety Troy Apke must sit out the first half after being ejected for targeting in the second half of last week’s win over Nebraska.
Penn State at Maryland
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Maryland Stadium, College Park, Md.
TV: Big Ten Network. Radio: WNTP-AM (990), WNPV-AM (1440).
Records: Penn State, 9-2 overall, 6-2 Big Ten, ranked No. 10 by the College Football Playoff selection committee and No. 12 in the Associated Press poll. Maryland, 4-7, 2-6.
Coaches: Penn State, James Franklin (34-17 in 4th season at Penn State, 58-32 overall). Maryland, D.J. Durkin (10-14 in 2nd season at Maryland, 11-14 overall).
History: Penn State leads, 37-2-1.
Last meeting: Penn State, 38-14, Oct. 8, 2016 at Beaver Stadium.
Two big goals: James Franklin said a few weeks ago that he doesn’t like to set season goals for his team, but the Nittany Lions can achieve two significant ones Saturday. A victory will give them back-to-back seasons of double-digit wins for the first time since 2008 and 2009. It also would likely mean a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game since they probably wouldn’t finish below 10th place in the College Football Playoff rankings unless some really crazy stuff happens the next two Saturdays.
Looking at a Philadelphia star: Maryland wide receiver D.J. Moore, who starred at Imhotep Charter School, enters the game ranked first in the Big Ten in receptions (72), receiving yardage (933), and touchdowns (eight). He needs six catches to set a single-season program record. He has had an excellent season despite receiving passes from four quarterbacks, a constant shuffle because of injuries. He also is an excellent punt returner.
Barkley still in running: Saquon Barkley had his best game since Week 4 against Iowa, rushing for 158 yards and accounting for 224 all-purpose yards last week against Nebraska. He needs to average 152 rushing yards in his last two games to break Evan Royster’s career record of 3,932. Another fine performance Saturday should all but assure his presence in New York on Dec. 9 as a finalist at the Heisman Trophy presentation.
Too loose in the secondary: The Nittany Lions pass defense gave up some impressive numbers to the Big Ten’s best quarterbacks in three of their last four games. J.T. Barrett of Ohio State, Brian Lewerke of Michigan State, and Tanner Lee of Nebraska combined to complete nearly 68 percent of their passes for 1,127 yards and nine touchdowns. While Maryland’s Max Bortenschlager might not be in their league, he has a dangerous deep threat in Moore, and the Lions had better have their pass rush working.
No Apke: Senior strong safety Troy Apke will not be eligible to play in the first half after being ejected from last week’s win against Nebraska for targeting. Redshirt sophomore Ayron Monroe is expected to start in Apke’s place.
Who’s the home team? It should be interesting to see if the Penn State fans will drown out the Maryland faithful. The Terrapins have drawn a crowd of more than 40,000 only once this season at their 54,000-seat stadium, and fans of the Nittany Lions travel well. In addition, the more than a dozen Penn State players who grew up in the area will be cheered on in their homecoming.