Running Game Key in Beating Purdue
Prior to Penn State’s game against Big Ten rival Purdue, Nittany Lions offensive
tackle Gary Gilliam had one goal in mind for the offense: rush for 400 yards.
While the Penn State rushing attack fell 111 yards shy of Gilliam’s goal, the
running game proved to be the di!erence maker in Penn State’s 45-21 victory
over the visiting Boilermakers.
“We came in and we practiced [running the ball] all week and we felt like we
could run the ball against these guys,” said Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien.
“We rushed the ball for 290 yards today so I’d say that’s pretty good.”
O’Brien’s tally of his team’s rushing yardage was o! by one, but there was
nothing o! about the play from senior running back Zach Zwinak, who once
again served as the bell cow for the Lions, carrying the ball 26 times for 149
Fresh o! his 26-carry, 150-yard performance last week against Minnesota,
Penn State’s bruising ball carrier heard about Gilliam’s lofty rushing
expectations and credited his lineman for paving the way.
“We’ll take what we can get but you always want to set a goal to reach,” said
Zwinak. “The line was blocking great, the tight ends were blocking great. They
were opening up holes for Bill and I and we just had to ﬁnd them.”
Both Belton and Zwinak had no problems ﬁnding open running lanes in the ﬁrst
half, as Belton had 16 carries for 77 yards and a touchdown, while Zwinak
carried the ball 14 times for 75 yards and a pair of scores.
Penn State as whole outrushed Purdue 182 to one in the ﬁrst half of play.
“As an offensive lineman, there’s no better feeling than when you’re getting
yards in the run game,” said senior guard John Urschel, who enjoyed a well-
deserved post game meal of chicken wings from Domino’s. “That’s an o!ensive
lineman’s dream, to run the ball every play.”
The Penn State offense, one that accumulated more passing than rushing
yardage in six of its ﬁrst seven games, has now produced three straight games
of more rushing yards than passing yards.
A more promising statistic for Penn State is that the team holds a 3-1 mark in
games where it racks up more rushing yardage than passing yardage.
“We talk about keys to victory every week and one of those keys is to establish
the running game,” O’Brien said.
On a day where Zwinak tied his career-high for rushing touchdowns in a game
with three, the team’s most notable touchdown was perhaps the four-yard
fourth quarter run by quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
The freshman gunslinger, whose single-game rushing yards high is the 10 he
stretched out (on ﬁve carries) in the win over Illinois, scored his third rushing
touchdown of the season on a bootleg that caught every single one of his
teammates off guard.
“I think coach O’Brien told [Hackenberg] to keep it and I just about had a heart
attack out there on the ﬁeld,” said Zwinak after watching his quarterback
bootleg into the end zone.
While Hackenberg surprised his teammates by keeping the ball for himself on
the play-action scramble into the end zone, it will be tough for the Penn State
rushing attack to surprise any upcoming opponents after the success it has
enjoyed the last three games.
Aaron Carr is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email
Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Gene J Puskar)
About the Contributors
Senior / Broadcast Journalism
Aaron is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. He is a Massachusetts native with a passion for New England sports. While he majors in broadcasting, Aaron has been called “the best writer in ComRadio” by his peers, a distinction he greatly values. Because of his writing ability, Aaron was named the Sports Editor for ComRadio earlier this fall. Aaron contributes to various ComRadio productions such as coverage of the NFL Draft, Penn State football and men’s basketball. He also does play by plays for professional, collegiate and high school sports including the State College Spikes and Penn State women’s volleyball. Aside from his work with ComRadio, he is also an intern with ESPN Radio 1450 and a former sports staff writer for The Daily Collegian.