Penn State football notebook: Belton’s illness ends shot at 2 RBs posting 1,000-yard seasons
UNIVERSITY PARK — A case of strep throat helped to all but eliminate Penn State’s outside shot at having two 1,000-yard rushers this season.
Nittany Lions coach Bill O’Brien said junior Bill Belton was ill throughout the week and didn’t practice, and a shoulder injury also contributed to him sitting out Saturday’s loss to Nebraska. Belton, who had 796 rushing yards through 10 games, had started each of the past four games at tailback.
Zach Zwinak regained both the official starting designation and the workhorse role he’d assumed late last season. Zwinak had 35 carries for 149 yards.
It was the second big Senior Day in a row for Zwinak. He had 36 carries for 179 yards in an overtime win over Wisconsin Nov. 24, 2012.
“He was running hard,” O’Brien said of Zwinak on Saturday. “He banged his shoulder up and banged his wrist up — and kept on running. He’s just a very, very tough kid.”
Zwinak, who had 1,000 rushing yards last season, has 874 this season heading into the finale this Saturday at Wisconsin. Zwinak didn’t have a carry that netted negative yards against the Cornhuskers.
Tight end touchdowns
After struggling to score at the beginning of the season, Penn State’s tight end corps continues to find the end zone over the past six games.
Jesse James and Adam Breneman scored against Nebraska, the first two-touchdown game for the group of tight ends. Breneman, a freshman, had his first touchdown last week. The Nittany Lions’ tight ends have had four touchdowns in their past four games and five in their past six after opening the season with none through five games.
“All three of them (including Kyle Carter) had some big catches today,” O’Brien said.
Last season, Penn State’s tight ends combined for 10 touchdowns. James, a South Allegheny graduate, has seven touchdowns in 22 career games.
(Less than) special teams
Penn State’s special teams problems weren’t limited to Sam Ficken’s two misses (an extra point and a field goal) and in allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown for the second consecutive game. The Lions also gave Nebraska good field position because of a second-quarter blocked punt after nearly doing the same earlier when Jesse Della Valle muffed the game’s first punt return. (Della Valle recovered it, though).
“We’ve got good kids who are trying hard,” O’Brien said. “We’ve got to just continue to try to work on it and fix it. We work hard on special teams, and we will continue to work hard on special teams.”
Despite miserable weather, the announced crowd of 98,517 was the second largest of the season and was more than 5,000 more than last season’s Senior Day. … Penn State’s lack of a secondary wide receiver continues to haunt: Other than Allen Robinson, all other wide receivers combined for two catches (one each by Eugene Lewis and Brandon Felder). … Robinson had eight receptions for 106 yards to move past Bobby Engram into second place on the school receptions list. He needs 11 catches to tie record-holder Deon Butler.
— Chris Adamski