Penn State pulls away from Purdue in second half

Zach Zwinak , who finished with 149 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries, leaps over a teammate in the Lions' rout of the 1-9 Boilermakers. ABBY DREY / Centre Daily Times
Zach Zwinak , who finished with 149 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries, leaps over a teammate in the Lions' rout of the 1-9 Boilermakers. ABBY DREY / Centre Daily Times
Posted: November 18, 2013

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Penn State guard John Urschel wore a smile wide enough to cover the area occupied by the Nittany Lions' five offensive linemen on the line of scrimmage.

The smiles along the offensive line and elsewhere were directed at Penn State's rushing attack, which piled up 289 yards and five touchdowns Saturday in the Nittany Lions' 45-21 Big Ten victory over Purdue on an unseasonably warm day at Beaver Stadium.

Zach Zwinak, who rushed for 149 yards on 26 carries, rolled for three touchdown runs, and Bill Belton and quarterback Christian Hackenberg had one each as the Nittany Lions (6-4, 3-3 Big Ten) assured themselves of finishing no worse than .500 on the season. The Boilermakers (1-9, 0-6) lost their eighth consecutive game.

Perhaps few, if any, Lions enjoyed the game more than Urschel, a 301-pound fifth-year senior and a 2012 all-Big Ten selection.

"This was a real fun game for us, with respect to coming off the ball and just hitting guys," Urschel said. "The offensive linemen really enjoyed it. We were having a blast. When you're an offensive lineman and you're getting yards, you want to run the ball over and over again."

The Nittany Lions, who had 31 first downs, the most in a game since 2005, rushed the ball a season-high 58 times and threw 23 passes while amassing 501 total yards. They were 10 of 12 on third-down conversions.

Belton, the former Winslow Township High star, rushed for 81 yards on 19 carries but saw his playing time reduced some after he lost a fumble for the third consecutive game. Zwinak, whose snaps had diminished after lost fumbles against Michigan and Ohio State, capitalized on his chance, scoring from 1, 1, and 5 yards out.

"Moving the ball helps the team because it gets everybody going and really excited," Zwinak said. "As long as we're moving the ball, it's a positive for the team."

"Any time you can, in my opinion, physically dominate the line of scrimmage, it's a good thing," coach Bill O'Brien said. "You're in manageable down and distances, especially third down. I think we had one third and long, which we converted. But most of our third downs were less than seven yards, and those are easier play calls."

The Nittany Lions looked ready to seize control in the first half. Two TD runs by Zwinak, one by Belton, and Hackenberg's 8-yard touchdown pass to fellow freshman Adam Breneman gave them a 28-7 lead with 1 minute, 18 seconds left.

The Boilermakers, however, still had life. Raheem Mostert raced 100 yards with the kickoff after Breneman's touchdown, and quarterback Danny Etling added an 11-yard TD run on the initial drive of the second half to make it 28-21.

The Penn State defense then asserted control, forcing a pair of fumbles - by Northeast High's Deion Barnes and by Nyeem Wartman - on sacks of Etling that were recovered by Austin Johnson (St. Augustine Prep) and Mike Hull, respectively.

Both takeaways led to touchdowns - by Zwinak and on a 4-yard run by Hackenberg off a fake to Zwinak, who did not know Hackenberg would keep the football.

"I turned around and I thought, 'I missed it,' " Zwinak said. "But when I saw him go into the end zone, I thought: 'Thank God.' "

The Lions' other turnover came on an interception by cornerback Jordan Lucas. In all, Penn State limited Purdue to 41 rushing yards and 264 yards of total offense.


jjuliano@phillynews.com

@JoeJulesInq

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