Nov 17, 2012; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions running back Zach Zwinak (28) runs with the ball during the first quarter against the Indiana Hoosiers at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Indiana 45-22. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State Football – An Entirely Too Early Look At Running Back


Last week we took a look at the quarterback competition that will likely dominate most of the discussion amongst Penn Staters for the next 7 months leading up to the start of the 2013 season. While certainly not as intriguing as who will be under center on August 31st against Syracuse, plenty of other questions remain.  Leading up to spring practice next month, we will take an entirely too early look at those, starting today with the running backs.

ZACH ZWINAK

OK, show of hands, who had Zach Zwinak pegged for 1,000 yards last season?  Yeah, me too.  Zach of course emerged in PSU’s 4th game of the 2012 campaign against Temple, carrying 18 times for 94 yards.  That performance would cement his spot, carrying the ball at least 16 times in 8 of the final 9 games.  His straight ahead, powerful running style meshed well with the PSU offensive line that had struggled to open holes consistently leading up to the Temple game.  Zwinak even displayed some impressive speed in the open field, highlighted by his 50 yard TD run early on at Nebraska.  If there was a weankess for Zach, it was ball security, losing 4 fumbles on 203 carries.

BILL BELTON

Mr. Belton of course entered the 2012 season as the first string tailback, but that went sideways just 13 carries into the season, when he suffered a high ankle sprain that knocked him out of the next 3 games, and quite honestly, seemed to effect him the rest of the season.  The highlight of a season that only gave Belton 60 carries was his 103 yard, 3 touchdown effort in a rather enjoyable 38-14 win in Iowa City.  Aside from the injury, Belton suffered from fumbling issues of his own, plus a shot across the bow from Bill O’Brien questioning his practice habits.

AKEEL LYNCH

It was no secret that I was really high on Akeel before last season, expecting him to make an immediate impact on the PSU offense.  I was told back then by a teammate that Lynch might be the best all around athlete on the team.  Given some of the competition, that was quite the compliment.  Instead of making me look like a genius, Lynch was redshirted as Zwinak solidified the revolving door in the backfield.  Going into 2013, Lynch is still a guy that I’m extremely high on, and that’s only partially because he turned down Iowa….twice.

Sep 1, 2012; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions running back Bill Belton (1) runs the ball for a touchdown in the first quarter against the Ohio Bobcats at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-US Presswire

How does this all play out?  I’m glad you asked.  Obviously it is foolish to think anyone other than Zwinak is the starter against Syracuse in August, barring injury.  But after that, there are a lot of questions.  PSU’s primary backup last season was now graduated Michael Zordich, so all those carries have to go somewhere.

 

It would be foolish to write off Belton at this point.  There is a reason he was #1 going into the season, but there’s also a reason he lost that spot.  I will insist as long as anyone listens (and probably for awhile after) that his high ankle sprain was a factor throughout the season.  That injury truly needs rest to fully heal, and I’m not sure it did.  He never again showed the quickness and cutting we saw early on vs. Ohio, even in the impressive performance against Iowa.  If healthy, and if he has committed himself on the practice field, he will be an interesting story to watch, and a guy that I would expect to see a lot of the ball.  Remember he started at WR for PSU, and could provide an interesting option in the slot, or on 3rd down out of the backfield.

The wildcard is the redshirt freshman Lynch.  He has the power to run between the tackles, but the speed to break one to the outside.  I expect Belton to become more of an all purpose type of player, getting involved in a handful of ways, not just as a tailback.  That puts Lynch in prime position to become the #2 behind Zwinak.

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