At the onset of the 2012 season, Penn State didn’t have a true top running back.
It wasn’t until after injuries to Bill Belton, Derek Day and Michael Zordich that Zach Zwinak got an opportunity to prove himself. Zwinak didn’t miss his chance, and he won’t lose his spot in 2013.
After getting only three carries against Virginia in Week 2, Zwinak’s next game action put him on the map.
In Week 4's home win against Temple, the fullback unloaded a power running style and finished the game with 94 yards. In the following games against Illinois and Northwestern, Zwinak added over 100 yards on the ground in each contest.
By the midway point in the season, Zwinak had successfully won the starting job over a healthy Belton, and he never looked back.
As 2013 spring practices draw near, coach Bill O’Brien finds himself in a spot he wasn’t in last year. The Lions have three healthy and strong choices at running back. Along with Zwinak and Belton, redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch will be looking to earn a role in the offense.
Regardless of his competition, though, Zwinak will start every game for Penn State in 2013 (barring serious injury). Aside from his past success, Zwinak has a few other things going for him.
For starters, Zwinak brings a powerful, consistent ground attack that most offenses don’t have anymore.
This allows O’Brien to wear down a defense with Zwinak before bringing in a quicker home run threat such as Belton or Lynch. With the talent behind Zwinak, there is no doubt that O’Brien will use his resources, and Belton and Lynch will get their carries.
O’Brien proved last year that his offense uses multiple running backs. There were only five games last season in which only one running back got double-digit touches. O’Brien will know how to balance Zwinak’s hit-you-in-the-mouth style with the more elusive Belton and Lynch.
Adding to all of this is O’Brien’s insistence on practice.
The second-year head coach is adamant about players earning their spots every week. Last season, Zwinak earned the starting job in practice over a healthy Belton, and I don’t see Zwinak losing that motivation this year.
Zwinak is a hard worker, and that will be reflected in his play and in his starting role all of next year.