Penn State defense energized by linebacker Bell's return
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Bob Shoop slowly walked to midfield at Beaver Stadium field Saturday, standing quietly for about a minute. Three hours before kickoff, the Penn State defensive coordinator was imagining the chaos his defense would create led by two of its most aggressive players.
Freshman safety Marcus Allen and junior linebacker Brandon Bell were the team's top tacklers in Penn State's 28-3 win over Rutgers where the Scarlet Knights managed 43 yards rushing. Allen and Bell made half their combined stops against the run and contributed another element.
Allen calls it ''swag'' that's kept Penn State's defense rolling - the Nittany Lions are on a similar pace to last season when they allowed just under 3 yards per carry. Bell defines it more traditionally.
''I'm not sure if I get under people's skin, but I definitely like to play with an edge,'' Bell said. ''And that brings a little bit more fire to our defense and myself.''
Penn State injected more of that into the lineup when Bell returned from an ankle injury to start at outside linebacker.
The New Jersey native didn't pass up a chance to bump shoulder pads with opponents when action moved into the Rutgers sideline. As whistles blew, he went facemask-to-facemask with a few other Scarlet Knights. He didn't hesitate to fall on piles that extra shove. He danced to hip-hop and raised his hands to goad a massive, color-coordinated crowd during stoppages.
''I think actually the refs told me to calm down at the beginning of the game,'' Bell said.
Allen's adrenaline was white hot and he danced, jersey untucked all night, right along with him.
''It makes everybody else want to play with that fire and have that swag to them,'' Allen said. ''This team right here is playing with a lot of swag and a lot of fire in them. It's just a whole different team from last year I believe.''
The young safety's words have been backed up by strong performances.
Despite losing the season opener, the Nittany Lions still managed to keep Temple to 149 rushing yards. Penn State gave up three touchdowns in that game, as many as it allowed in the first three games last season, but haven't allowed one since.
Buffalo went nowhere on the ground and Rutgers' rushing attack hit a wall after racking up 489 yards the first two weeks.
Bell and Allen are quick to point out contributions from teammates.
Jason Cabinda has moved ''smoothly'' from the outside to the middle linebacker spot to fill-in for injured Nyeem Wartman-White, Bell said. And the rest of Penn State's defenders - most in their second year in Shoop's defense - are communicating better than they were able to last season.
Freshman cornerback John Reid and freshman linebacker Troy Reeder played big snap counts against Rutgers and both played well alongside Allen and Bell, respectively. Allen was one of a handful of true freshmen along with defensive backs Grant Haley, Troy Apke and Christian Campbell, to play last season.
Haley was able to land a role as the team's top kick returner and eventually earned time on defense last season. He returned from an undisclosed injury and made his second interception in just his second career start on Saturday.
He knows why so many have made easy transitions recently.
''B-Bell is an energy guy,'' Haley said. ''I kind of feed my energy off of him. They get excited for the games. Like you saw on Saturday night, he was jumping up and dancing around. It's hard not to start jumping up and dancing around with him because everyone else is having fun out there.''