NCAA FOOTBALL: PENN STATE 45, PURDUE 21 -- Nittany Lions ride potent ground attack to win
STATE COLLEGE — Penn State took off running — and a potent 1-2 punch grounded the idea the Nittany Lions are simply pass happy.
Zach Zwinak ran for 149 yards and three touchdowns and Bill Belton rushed for 89 yards and a score, all part of Penn State’s 289-yard, five-touchdown running attack that paved the way for the Nittany Lions to a 45-21 win over Purdue on Saturday.
Zwinak had a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs in the first half and a 5-yard score in the second, boosting his season total to 12.
“Just moving the ball helps the team,” Zwinak said. “It gets everybody going and gets the fans excited. Just as long as we’re moving the ball.”
The Nittany Lions moved it — and Purdue couldn’t stop it.
Allen Robinson’s fifth catch of the game was his 78th of the season, setting Penn State’s single-season receptions mark. Robinson, who had eight receptions for 98 yards, topped the 77 catches he had last season. He holds Penn State’s season records for catches (81) and yards (1,204).
Christian Hackenberg threw a touchdown pass and ran for one to help the Nittany Lions (6-4, 3-3 Big Ten) clinch at least a .500 record. The Nittany Lions are still suffering from the sanctions the NCAA levied in the Jerry Sandusky scandal and are not eligible for a bowl game.
Raheem Mostert had a 100-yard kickoff return for the Boilermakers (1-9, 0-6).
Again, the Nittany Lions proved their resiliency under second-year coach Bill O’Brien and improved to 7-1 after a loss over the past two seasons. The Nittany Lions haven’t lost two straight games since they started 0-2 last season.
They finished 8-4 in 2012 and this season, they can finish at .500, at worst, with games left against Nebraska and at Wisconsin. Led by O’Brien, those are solid achievements for a program many expected would be decimated in the wake of the scandal that also stripped scholarships.
“We have no problem with morale,” O’Brien said. “Our team is enthusiastic, they are proud. They love to play football. They love to play for Penn State. We don’t have one problem. Not one problem with morale. And we never have since I walked in the door here.”
O’Brien and the Nittany Lions were overcome with emotion for the pregame coin flip. Adam Hartswick, a former Army combat medic, lost his legs in May when he stepped on an explosive device as he rushed to the aid of an ambushed foot patrol. He was introduced to a rousing ovation.
“I could not get over how much that hit me,” O’Brien said.
The 1-2 backfield combination of Belton and Zwinak each rushed for scores in the first quarter for a 14-0 lead.
Belton rushed for 201 yards in the last home game against Illinois, and Zwinak hit 150 yards in last week’s loss against Minnesota. They combined for more than 200 yards rushing against a Purdue defense that entered allowing 5.3 yards a carry.
“I like to be balanced. I like to do things that are best for the football team,” O’Brien said.
Against Purdue, that was running the ball.
Zwinak scored his second touchdown to capitalize off Danny Etling’s interception on the potential tying drive, and Hackenberg’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Adam Breneman helped Penn State build a 28-14 halftime lead.
Mostert answered Hackenberg’s score with a 100-yard kickoff return, and Etling had a 2-yard touchdown pass to Justin Sinz in the second quarter.
Purdue had just 1 yard rushing in the first half; Penn State had 182.
“You’d like to be able to get them stopped,” Purdue coach Darrell Hazell said. “Some of those first- and second-down runs, you can’t let them hit them for 8 and 9 yards and put them in third-and-1 situations.”
Etling’s 11-yard rush sliced the deficit to 28-21 early in the third, giving the Boilermakers hope.
Penn State crushed that thought with two more scores in the third. Sam Ficken kicked a 29-yard field goal, and Zwinak’s third touchdown of the game made it 38-21.
The Boilermakers were simply too sloppy to mount a true upset bid, committing three turnovers, including a lost a fumble late in the fourth, leading to Hackenberg’s 4-yard scramble that rounded out the scoring and made it 45-21.