Defense, running backs help PSU rout Kent State
STATE COLLEGE It wasn't the best of days for a Penn State football game with the way Mother Nature raised havoc with a storm in Happy Valley Saturday.
A steady downpour ruined any intentions Nittany Lion head coach Bill O'Brien and freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg had of carrying out a successful air attack against non-conference foe Kent State.
Instead, the Lions' defense stepped up and pitched its first shutout since 2010, which ironically came against the same Golden Flashes program, and O'Brien put the offensive burden on the individuals in the backfield with with Hackenberg.
Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch formed a running attack by committee and didn't disappoint their head coach or the soaked fan faithful in any way. The three backs combined for 310 of the Nittany Lions' 476 total yards of offense and carried Penn State to a 34-0 non-conference victory over visiting Kent State.
"I think if you've followed the teams I've been around, whether it was Georgia Tech or Maryland, we ran the ball pretty well there, and in New England," O'Brien said. "We used a lot of backs at those places. I believe in using a lot of backs, I really do. I know some teams want to use one back.
"Sometimes we do, we try to go with the hot back. We think that all three of these guys are good football players. They're practicing well, it's a competitive spot. We think all three deserve to play, so we rotate them in there. I thought all three played well today."
While Zwinak (15 carries, 66 yards, three touchdowns) and Belton (13 carries, 93 yards) carried the brunt of the storm on their shoulders in the first half, which saw Penn State take a 14-0 lead into intermission, it was Lynch who made the most of his opportunity once he finally got the pigskin in his hands late in the game.
After Hackenberg attempted to mix things up by throwing the ball he was just 1-for-12 in the third quarter and 13-for-35 in the game and Zwinak scored his second touchdown, Lynch was given the chance by coach and he made the most of it . Lynch took his initial handoff from Hackenberg with 1:38 left in the third quarter and broke free for a 43-yard run.
After accounting for 60 yards on four carries in the third quarter, Lynch saw plenty more opportunities (10 more to be exact) in the final quarter. The 6-foot, 211-pound back from Ontario, Canada set the stage for Zwinak's final score with 6:42 left in the game.
Lynch thanked every member of his offensive line after the game, The individual, who will be the last Nittany Lion to wear Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti's soon to be retired No. 22 on his back, received a huge pat on the back from his head coach and quarterback.
"It was definitely a good game for all three of us," said Lynch, who had a career high in both carries (14) and yards (123). "And, that's what we want to do week-in and week-out because all of us have the ability to break one and all of us have the ability to go over a 100 yards each week.
"We feed off each other as you can see on the sidelines. When one guy scores, we're happy for him. We just rotate with each other, we talk to each other, we communicate with each other, so it's a very healthy relationship we all have."
Lynch also lend a hand in helping set up a memorable night for placekicker Sam Ficken, who nailed a 25 yard field goal early in the fourth and then followed with a career-high 54 yard field goal with 2:51 left in the game. Ficken's 54-yard field goal was the longest by a Penn State kicker since Herb Menhardt hit a 54-yarder against North Carolina State in 1979 to win the game on the last play.
Ficken's 54-yarder is tied for the fourth-longest in school history and also tied for the second longest in the nation this season.