Running back Bill Belton had another outstanding game as the Penn State Nittany Lions defeated the Illinois Fighting Illini 24-17 in overtime on Saturday. Belton got the start in the backfield and made the most of his opportunity. He was very effective as a runner, showing both speed and an ability to gain the tough yards up the middle.
Belton was busy against the Illini, carrying the ball 36 times for 201 yards. Both of those numbers are career highs for the junior running back. He scored the first touchdown of the game with a five-yard run in the first quarter.
What a difference a year has made for Belton, as he’s already surpassed his production from last season. Even though he began 2012 as the starting running back, he dealt with an early injury and ended up relenting his job to Zach Zwinak after failing to perform up to the expected level.
He spent much of last season in head coach Bill O’Brien’s doghouse after failing to put forth his best effort. This year, he’s trusted by head coach Bill O’Brien in tough situations.
He was the running back who got the carries in the overtime periods against Michigan and ended up scoring the winning touchdown. Against Illinois, Belton had a fumble on the goal line late in the fourth quarter that could have cost the Nittany Lions the game. Instead, they overcame that obstacle and Belton was the one carrying the ball in overtime.
It’s clear that O’Brien totally trusts Belton now and is comfortable with him leading the rushing attack.
He entered this season behind Zwinak on the depth chart, but is now the clear starter for the Nittany Lions. Belton leads the team in rushing, with 668 yards so far this season.
The talk on Belton was always that he had talent, but had never reached his full potential. He is starting to do that now, taking advantage of his opportunities this season. Now that Belton is the main threat in the Penn State backfield, it’s tough to see him going backwards.
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