Nits' Belton wants to improve on last week's standout performance

ASSOCIATED PRESS Bill Belton runs for daylight against Eastern Michigan, against which he tallied a career-high 108 rushing yards.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Bill Belton runs for daylight against Eastern Michigan, against which he tallied a career-high 108 rushing yards.
Posted: September 12, 2013

STATE COLLEGE - Bill Belton is not naïve enough to put too much stock into one contest.

The Penn State junior running back tallied a career-high 108 rushing yards and scored twice in a 45-7 shellacking of Eastern Michigan on Saturday.

The touchdowns were Belton's first in 46 weeks. The Sicklerville, N.J., native ran for 103 yards and three scores against Iowa on Oct. 20 of last season. But, in the Nittany Lions' final five games of the 2012 campaign, Belton accumulated only 27 yards on 11 carries and got his hands on the ball only once in the last 4 weeks.

"It's definitely great, but I can't be satisfied with that and keep it from where I've been playing," Belton said yesterday. "I have to keep doing the right things and keep putting myself in that position."

Belton's drought ended in the second quarter, when he cut back to find a hole and breezed into the end zone from 5 yards out. In the fourth quarter, the agile, 5-10, 205-pounder broke through Eastern Michigan's defense for a 51-yard scoring scamper, the longest run by any Penn State player since Evan Royster's 69-yard run against Northwestern in 2009. Belton also had a 21-yard gain on a screen pass and ended the game with 129 all-purpose yards - which tied him for a team best with wideout Allen Robinson.

"He's being more decisive running the ball, and his pass-catching ability out of the backfield is good," coach Bill O'Brien said of the wide receiver-turned-running back. "I think his protection needs to improve, but I know he's going to work on that this week. Overall, he's a much better player, and he's turned the corner off the field, too."

O'Brien said Belton is dealing with an unspecified minor injury issue this week and is "probable" to play Saturday when the Lions host Central Florida.

Belton was one of a trio of running backs who torched Eastern Michigan in Penn State's home opener. Redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch matched Belton's 108 yards in his collegiate debut - it was the first time Penn State had two rushers hit the century mark since 2010 - and scored an 18-yard touchdown. Meanwhile, starter Zach Zwinak took only seven handoffs, but he gained 43 yards and scored twice.

"I think that's how we all envisioned ourselves," Lynch said.

Belton lost the starting job to Zwinak - a 240-pound punishing runner - by the end of last season, but Belton said the running backs always collaborate on what they can do better. One aspect Belton said he was working on before the season was his physicality, and he showed it Saturday by breaking a few tackles.

With 127 rushing yards after two games, Belton leads the team. And though it seems Zwinak will continue to start, O'Brien said he wants to use all three running backs.

"Running back by committee isn't so bad when you have three good running backs," he said.

Belton said he has no problems with a rotation of running backs, and wants to do more than just duplicate his game from Saturday.

"Honestly, I don't know," Belton said when he was asked what he's fully capable of. "We'll have to wait and see. But I still got to continue to be better each day out there on the practice field and never be satisfied with my performance I had Saturday."

On Twitter: @SPianovich

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