Penn State Running Backs Proving They Hold Key to Fast Finish

Tim TolleyContributor INovember 16, 2013

Nov 16, 2013; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions running back Zach Zwinak (28) runs with the ball against the Purdue Boilermakers during the second quarter at Beaver Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Entering Saturday's contest against Purdue, Penn State was in a bit of a funk offensively. Over the previous three games, the Nittany Lions were averaging just 16 points per game. They won just one of those games.

It became imperative that Penn State get things rolling against Purdue with Nebraska and Wisconsin remaining on the schedule. That's precisely what Penn State did, as the offense rolled for 45 points on the legs of Zach Zwinak, who rushed for 149 yards and two touchdowns.

It was the third straight game that saw a Nittany Lion running back go for at least 149 yards. Still, this offense was different.

Despite fumbles by both Zwinak and Bill Belton, Bill O'Brien remained confident in his running backs and called a near-flawless game. 

It seemed like the Penn State head coach and play-caller couldn't miss, as he dialed up well-timed passes to compliment the pounding ground attack that he seemed intent on establishing. With the success it brought against Purdue (five rushing touchdowns), it's easy to predict that O'Brien will stay with this strategy.

Zach Zwinak & Bill Belton Last Three Games

An underlying result from the successful ground game was the time of possession. At least four different starters on the Penn State defense have noticeable injuries wrapped up under their pads. An already thin defense has been pushed to the brink by injuries—a defense that, last week, spent 35 minutes on the field against a physical Minnesota team.

Against Purdue, the Nittany Lions were able to control the football and keep the clock running, keeping the defense off the field for all but 23:31. They responded by allowing just 14 points to the Purdue offense and holding the Boilermakers to just 38 rushing yards.

The road ahead isn't going to be easy for this Nittany Lion squad. Next week is Senior Day against Nebraska, followed by a trip to Madison to take on the Badgers. In Penn State's favor, it seems to be able to run the ball as well as it can stop the run—two keys to winning football games.

Much will fall on the shoulders of Belton, Zwinak and O'Brien, but it appears that the formula for success is now in place. Run the ball, control the clock, wear down the opponent's defense.

Sounds easy enough, right?