Penn State Football: Triple-Threat Running Attack Headlines 2013 Offense
For Bill O'Brien few things are certain when it comes to trying to prognosticate the Nittany Lions' future. One thing that Penn State's second year head coach can count on though is a talented corps of three running backs who will do their part to carry Penn State to victory. Each with a different skill set and each with a different point to prove, the Nittany Lion trio of Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton, and Akeel Lynch will look to anchor Penn State's offense in 2013.
Here's a breakdown of each key member of Penn State's 2013 rushing attack.
Zach Zwinak: (Junior eligibility)
Penn State's de facto leader in the running game, Zwinak took over the starting job following the departure of Silas Redd to USC. Despite having been relatively unknown, Zwinak turned out 1,000 yards rushing at 4.9 yards per carry, scoring seven touchdowns . While not the flashiest runner or usually the most explosive, Zwinak earned his yards the hard way, taking hits and churning the legs.
Even though there is little doubt Zwinak is capable of performing at a high level, players who have breakout seasons will always be pressured to repeat or improve on past performances. Zwinak will look to do just that in 2013, and with a few extra bodies in the backfield he ought to stay fresher for longer as the season drags on. Division of labor might see his numbers decline but not for a lack of effort or effective running.
- Projections: 190 attempts, 947 yards, 8 touchdowns
Akeel Lynch (Freshman eligibility)
With a redshirt season under his belt Lynch has benefited from a year in the weight room and a year spent practicing against Penn State's defense on the scout team. Penn State fans finally got to see what Lynch has to offer at this years' Blue White game. A 13 carry, 87 yard day was more than enough for the Nittany Lion faithful to feel good about a player they had heard so much about. With shifty feet and good speed, Lynch ought to provide Penn State with a nice one-two punch combination alongside Zwinak. It's hard to project a player's durability and effectiveness when it comes to finally hitting the field for the first time, but Lynch passes the eye test and with ease.
- Projections: 125 attempts, 689 yards, 5 touchdowns
Bill Belton: (Junior eligibility)
If anyone has a chip on his shoulder it's Bill Belton. Out with an ankle injury for a good portion of the season Belton went from the assumed heir of Silas Redd to a player vary rarely making an impact. With 308 yards of offense and 60 carries to his name Belton isn't lacking talent but rather suffered from a lot of bad luck. Belton's production will be directly related to O'Brien's willingness to use a multiple back running game. If O'Brien lets the trio loose there isn't any reason Belton can't make up for lost time. It's also possible that moving Belton to kick return duties is a sign that O'Brien is happy with what Zwinak and Lynch have to offer. Either way, Belton is too talented of player to leave off the field when healthy.
- Projections: 90 attempts, 435 yards, 4 touchdowns
Pat Zerbe: (Senior eligibility)
Zerbe has spent his time grinding away behind the scenes, but with only a year left at Penn State it's time to make the hard work pay off. Zerbe will fill in the role that Michael Zordich left behind and at 6-foot-1, 231 pounds he should be able to do it. Zordich was a unique fullback in the sense that he was a talented runner with a special edge to his running game. It seems unlikely that Zerbe will see the same number of carries as his predecessor but that doesn't mean he won't be an important part of the offense.
- Projections: 50 attempts, 156 yards, 2 touchdowns
Overall Penn State likely has one of the more underrated backfields in the conference. If Zwinak is able to produce at the same rate he did last season with contributions of Lynch and Belton the Nittany Lions may have to rely a lot less on the arm of whomever lines up under center this season. The Nittany Lions fell just short of the 2,000 yard mark on the ground last season. If projections hold true that threshold should be broken with ease.
*Did you know? Penn State ran the ball 475 times last season for roughly 51% of the Nittany Lions' 931 plays run on offense.*