Zordich moves from fullback to tailback for Penn State

Posted: September 17, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Michael Zordich knew Penn State needed help in the running game with its first two tailbacks sidelined by injuries, so the fullback badgered coach Bill O'Brien into letting him shift positions for Saturday's game against Navy.

"He's always reminded me that, 'I used to run the ball in high school, Coach,' " O'Brien said. "It's like being Ferris Bueller's teacher, it's over and over."

So O'Brien put the 236-pound Zordich at tailback, and he responded with 50 yards on 11 carries as the Nittany Lions showed improvement in their running game from a week ago in their 34-7 victory over the Mids.

Zordich's 50 yards were more than the senior had gained in any of his three previous seasons.

"It felt great," he said. "We knew we needed a win to get rolling. It felt good to be able to have that kind of responsibility and be able to go out and play like that and have all those guys with me in the huddle."

The Lions played without tailbacks Bill Belton (ankle) and Derek Day (separated shoulder). Saturday's tailback tandem of Zordich and Curtis Dukes averaged 4.4 yards per carry, much better than the 2.4-yard tailback average in last week's loss at Virginia.

Ficken's kicking

Coming off a nightmarish game in which he missed four field-goal attempts, Sam Ficken received a great reception from Penn State students, who cheered loudly with every successful field goal he kicked in practice.

"That was pretty funny," linebacker Michael Mauti said. "It was kind of like, 'OK, the students are welcoming him back.' For me, I think that took some weight off his shoulders."

But Ficken didn't have a chance to kick one in the game. He missed the extra point after the Lions' third touchdown. On its next possession, the team drove to the Navy 8, where it had fourth and goal.

O'Brien, however, decided to go for it. The play resulted in an incomplete pass.

"It had nothing to do with Sam Ficken," he said. "I just felt good about the play call that I had at that point. Obviously it didn't work out. We blew the protection on that. I wouldn't take that call back."

It's a mystery

Tackle Jordan Hill was busy on the bench talking to his teammates on defense when he heard someone calling him to go in for Penn State's goal-line offense on the team's opening drive.

"I'm like, 'What?' " Hill said. "It went through my head and I thought, 'Hey, I've got to get out there because they called goal line.' We had to call a timeout so they were going to change the play. I went back out and went out for a pass. I wanted it bad."

The pass instead went to true freshman tight end Jesse James, who caught it for the touchdown.

"I was open late, probably two or three seconds before he caught it," the 292-pound Hill said. "I stopped my route, and it kind of opened up."

O'Brien said he would use a mystery runner in the backfield Saturday. Afterward, he wouldn't confirm Hill was the man.

"I'm not telling," he said. "Is he the mystery running back? Yeah, he's part of that mystery running back committee."


O'Brien said he felt offensive tackle Donovan Smith (ankle) and backup center Ty Howle (pectoral) would be back for next week's game against Temple. He said Belton and Day were day-to-day, as was defensive end Pete Massaro (knee and shoulder). . . . Under NCAA sanctions resulting from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the Nittany Lions had all their victories from 1998 through 2011 vacated, a total of 112 wins in all. So Saturday's victory was the first to be recognized by the NCAA record books since the last win of the 1997 season.

Contact Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com or follow him on Twitter @joejulesinq

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