It’s not on the same level as Ohio State losing Nick Bosa to injury. But Penn State players are still coming to grips with the fact that their own teammate, Mark Allen, will never suit up again for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State coach James Franklin confirmed Tuesday that Allen, the team’s top backup to Miles Sanders at running back, will miss the rest of his senior season with an undisclosed injury.
Allen, a fifth-year senior who had 124 total yards and two touchdowns in the first three games this season, did not travel to Friday’s win over Illinois and was not on the depth chart for Saturday’s game vs. Ohio State. The FS1 broadcast of the Illinois game reported that Allen was hurt in practice last week.
“It sucks. It’s terrible,” junior tackle Ryan Bates said. “Especially for someone like Mark Allen, someone so positive. He’s still so positive. He’s taking it very well. We all have his back, of course. We all have his back no matter what and obviously he’s still part of the team.
“He’s going to be with us every day. I don’t think that’ll change much. He’ll still be around. It’ll still be the same hyped-up, high-energy Mark. But yeah, obviously it’s a terrible thing what happened. But I wish him the best of luck.”
Allen has the longest ties to the team of anyone on the roster. His original verbal commitment was to former Lions coach Bill O’Brien nearly six full years ago, back in October 2012, while still a junior at Maryland powerhouse DeMatha Catholic. He was the first member of the 2014 recruiting class that was ultimately signed by Franklin.
After redshirting in 2014, Allen played sparingly as Penn State went from NCAA pariah to national contender. This month marked the first extended action of his career.
“That’s the thing, you never know if it’s a finite time,” Allen said last Tuesday shortly before suffering his season-ending injury. “When you’re on the field, play like you’re going to be in there the whole entire time. If you play like it’s a one-play mentality or you’re going out after this series, you’re not going to get the job done. So you have to play like you’re the starter and take advantage of all the reps that you get.”
Allen won’t get another rep in college. But his presence on the team will not be lost.
Like other veteran teammates who have had their careers ended early by injuries — namely defensive ends Torrence Brown and Ryan Buchholz — Allen will still be a fixture in the locker room, meetings and helping film study.
“Mark’s got a very bright future,” Franklin said. “He’s going to be very successful whatever he chooses to do. He’s talking a little bit about maybe getting into coaching. But we got a lot of love and respect for Mark and what he’s been able to do in his career here. But you won’t see Mark again this year playing on the field.”
Slade stepping up
With Allen out, true freshman Ricky Slade firmly steps into the No. 2 spot at running back, giving Penn State a one-two punch of five-star recruits.
Slade has flashed that potential, breaking off long touchdown runs against Appalachian State and Illinois. He already has four rushing scores on the season to go with 147 yards. The major downside has been two lost fumbles in limited carries in the Pitt game.
Like Allen, he runs bigger than his frame, as he has been able to fight through tackle at 5-foot-9 and a stout 198 pounds. But it’s his vision that stands out most, as he’s able to put defenders on skates with quick and decisive cuts in the open field.
“Yeah, Ricky’s doing some really nice things for us as a true freshman,” Franklin said. “He’s getting better every single practice. His attitude, his work ethic, his demeanor are all reall good. He’s working hard in pass protection, which is typically challenging for young backs. So yeah, we’re excited about his future.”
Fifth-year senior Jonathan Thomas and redshirt freshman Journey Brown are now both listed as third string at the position.
Praise for Bosa
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer confirmed what was widely assumed this week, that Bosa, the team’s star defensive end and potential top draft pick next spring, will not play on Saturday.
Bosa underwent core muscle surgery after being injured on Sept. 15 against TCU and likely won’t be available until late in the season, depending on his recovery.
His absence will be noted this weekend.
“He’s one of the better college football players I’ve ever seen on tape,” Franklin said. “He is obviously big and strong and athletic. But his motor is I think what separates him. There’s a lot of big, strong, athletic guys out there, but very rarely do those big, strong, athletic guys have the type of motor that he has play after play after play after play. It’s impressive.”
Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse