After all of the craziness of December and January with Bill O’Brien’s decision to leave for the NFL and the hiring of new head coach James Franklin, it’s time to finally focus on some real football… sort of. The annual Blue-White Game kicks off at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. There will plenty of things that will be interesting for fans to look for during the scrimmage. VBR will be bringing a series to you this week of things to watch for during the game. Today, we start with the running backs.
You might be asking, “Why do we want to watch the running backs? They are the same as last year.” True, but the battle for the actual starting gig and playing time will be interesting to keep an eye on.
Two years ago, Zach Zwinak was the big surprise as he came from nowhere on the depth chart to lead the Nittany Lions in rushing. Last year, he was the clear starter entering the season. However, Zwinak ran into some fumbling issues and started losing time in the backfield. He still led the team in attempts (210), rushing yards (989) and touchdowns (12). Zwinak should be considered the starter for 2014, but could see his playing time drop if he struggles.
Bill Belton, who really struggled in 2012, made himself relevant in the backfield last season. He finished with 803 yards and five touchdowns. That included a career-high 201 rushing yards against Purdue. Belton is a talented playmaker who can be a dangerous receiver out of the backfield and a weapon on special teams. Keep an eye on him Saturday to see how he’s utilized. A strong showing in the offseason might move him closer to the starting job.
Akeel Lynch, who looked sharp in last year’s Blue-White Game after Zwinak got hurt, did not live up to expectations during the 2013 season. He only carried the ball 60 times for 358 yards and a touchdown. Though his playing time was limited, he did rush for over 100 yards against Eastern Michigan (108) and Kent State (123). Lynch has a lot of potential and could be a big part of the offense with more consistency.
Expect Franklin to go light with Zwinak and Belton during the scrimmage to avoid injury. That should mean extra playing time for Lynch at the Blue-White Game.
While the Penn State offense is clearly led by the arm of sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg, it will be up to the running backs in 2014 to provide production and keep pressure off of the talented quarterback. Sit back and enjoy what you see on Saturday.
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