Had the second half gone differently, had Nebraska not kept scoring, Troy Apke may not have been on the field.
But the senior safety was out there in the fourth quarter Saturday as the Cornhuskers tried to mount a furious comeback. That’s when he picked up a targeting call that will keep him on the bench for the first half of this week’s game at Maryland.
Combine that with the ongoing suspension of linebacker Manny Bowen, and Penn State will open the trip to College Park without two starters on defense.
Bowen, the first-teamer at the weak-side spot, will miss his third straight game following an undisclosed violation of team rules.
“Manny is not available,” coach James Franklin said Tuesday at his weekly press conference.
Senior Brandon Smith has been starting in Bowen’s place, recording a team-best 23 tackles in that span.
It will be the fourth career game Bowen has missed for disciplinary reasons, including last season’s Rose Bowl.
Sophomore wideout and top special teams gunner Irvin Charles did not play last week against Nebraska. Franklin called him “a game-time decision” for Saturday.
While Smith provided an obvious choice to fill in at linebacker, the Nittany Lions will likely use both Nick Scott and Ayron Monroe at safety against the Terrapins with Marcus Allen manning his usual spot in the backfield.
Allen was disappointed his fellow senior won’t be out there the entire time with him.
”Man, that’s a big one,” Allen said. “That hurt me a little bit, just to see Troy not be able to play the first half of next game because he’s a senior. He’d love to play the full game for his last game. That’s just going to make me go even harder for my boy.
“I’m going to play my heart out for him. That’s all I can do.”
With few surprises across the country this past weekend, Penn State remained at No. 10 in the latest College Football Playoff poll, released on Tuesday night.
The Lions remain in decent position to earn a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game — likely one without a conference tie-in such as the Cotton Bowl or Peach Bowl — with a win over the Terps. But it’s not something fully in their control.
Teams that could hurt Penn State’s chances to reach a marquee bowl would be No. 6 Auburn, which can win the SEC West with a win over top-ranked Alabama on Saturday. Likewise, No. 12 TCU can guarantee a New Year’s Six berth by topping No. 4 Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game in two weeks.
Should a 10-2 Lions team be squeezed out, they would likely end up in the Citrus Bowl.
Following back-to-back losses to Ohio State and Michigan State, Franklin vowed he would eliminate distractions as much as possible to keep his players and staff focused on the game at hand.
Needless to say then, he wasn’t thrilled that Saquon Barkley’s preference to play in a bowl game became such big news after Saturday’s game — his issue being with the media, not his star running back.
“I think it’s really inappropriate, in my opinion, from my perspective, to ask a player whether they plan on playing in a bowl game when we’re not even into bowl season yet,” Franklin said. “We’re focused on Maryland this week. I know you guys don’t have to ask questions that I like or agree with, but I think to ask a player about whether they’re going to play in a bowl game when we still have a game yet, we don’t even know what bowl we’re going to, is inappropriate.
“… I know for sure that you guys don’t agree with everything I do. But I did want to get that off my chest.”
Barkley had initially been asked about the NFL draft on Saturday and whether the Nebraska game had been his last in Beaver Stadium. Barkley responded by saying that he hadn’t made a decision yet and that he still had two games left to play — meaning Maryland and the bowl — which led to the bowl game questions.
With Penn State out of the Playoff picture, Barkley’s willingness to play in the postseason was of heavy interest after fellow running backs Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey both opted to skip their bowl games last season.
Barkley said Saturday he respected their decisions but that his situation was different because those two had been dealing with injuries.
Barkley will have a chance to win some hardware before bowl season, as he was named one of three finalists for both the Maxwell Award — a national player of the year honor — and the Doak Walker Award, given to the country’s top running back.
The Maxwell will go to either Barkley, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield or Stanford running back Bryce Love. Barkley, Love and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor are the candidates for the Walker.
Lions senior Mike Gesicki is in the same boat as one of three finalists for the Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end, joining Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews and Wisconsin’s Troy Fumagalli.
The winners will be announced on ESPN’s college football awards show on Dec. 7.