When Penn State safety Marcus Allen played at Heinz Field in 2016, two people were supposed to be there to watch him play: his grandmother and grandfather.
Allen — who spent summers visiting his dad’s parents in Pittsburgh — had that game in the Steel City circled for a long time.
Unfortunately for Allen, his grandparents never saw him play the Panthers. His grandmother passed away during winter workouts the season before, and his grandfather died just days prior to Penn State’s 42-39 loss to Pittsburgh.
“I played with a lot of passion,” Allen said of 2016’s emotionally-charged game. “I played with a lot of stuff going on with me personally.”
That’s why Saturday was so important to him. That’s why Allen — a guy who never needs an injection of energy — came to Beaver Stadium with a heavy heart ready for revenge.
And he got it.
Allen played like a man possessed in Penn State’s 33-14 win over Pitt, making 12 tackles and recording a fourth-quarter safety that all but secured a Nittany Lion victory.
Nine of Allen’s tackles came in the first half. The Maryland native also recorded a pass breakup.
But it was the two-point safety that brought the sellout crowd of Beaver Stadium to its feet. It was that play that erupted the Penn State bench and silenced any remaining chatter on the Pitt sideline.
It was Penn State’s first safety since 2010, and Allen saw it coming all the way.
“During this week, we prepared our butt off,” Allen said. “I read that play, like, 100 times. I saw that play 100 times in practice. I saw it and just broke.”
Pitt’s play was a simple one, a halfback screen initiated after the near-side wide receiver clears the area with a cross route.
In this case, Pitt was backed up on its own 4-yard line and tried to get some breathing room. Instead, the Panthers got Allen smothering running back Darrin Hall.
The hard-hitting safety creeped up in the box, realized what was going on and blew by the lead blocker.
Hall caught Max Browne’s seemingly harmless pass — but the back couldn’t turn his head forward before being bulldozed. Allen drove his right shoulder into Ball’s gut and brought him to the grass.
The safety popped up and high-stepped in celebration as Jason Cabinda and teammates followed him toward the north end zone crowd.
“We talk about that all the time, flying by guys to make plays,” Cabinda said. “Not trying to engage guys, just make the play.”
Senior tackle Andrew Nelson had a decent view from the sidelines.
“I mean, I was going nuts,” Nelson said, grinning. “You know, especially when a guy like Marcus makes that play. Everyone knows Marcus is a big rah-rah guy, and he gets people going. You knew as soon as he came over to the sideline, it was going to be hyped.”
That’s just the way Allen is. No matter what’s going on, that’s how he’ll play.
Even though the safety played Pitt in 2016 dealing with heartbreak, he did so channeling his emotions.
And little more than a year removed from his grandfather’s death, Allen didn’t change that approach.
“I just play it out,” Allen said in a deep gaze. “I just show it on the field.”
His teammate saw that first-hand.
“For him, he just wanted to go out and play and put his all out there,” said Cabinda, who was one of many teammates to console Allen through those trying times in 2016. “He does that every single time he plays.”
And Saturday was no different.