The Penn State Nittany Lions‘ most talked-about player on offense is undoubtedly QB Christian Hackenberg, but don’t be fooled—PSU’s biggest threats actually lurk behind him.
The Lions will feature a three-headed monster at running back this season, with a possibility that a fourth back, sophomore walk-on Cole Chiappialle, could also force his way into the mix. With Zach Zwinak delivering the boom, Bill Belton leaving defenders behind like a house hit by a tornado and Akeel Lynch shaking it up with a bit of both, there’s no denying PSU is going to improve on last season’s seventh-place finish in the Big 10‘s hierarchy of running games.
College football experts and fans have spent the offseason disagreeing about which player is going to claim the top spot on the depth chart, which should give you some insight into just how frustrating it will be to line up against the Nittany Lions in 2014. When stitched together, PSU’s backs create one intimidating singular force running with the rock.
Zwinak is the sound body of the Penn State running game, hitting the exact magical milestone of 1,000 yards on 203 carries (4.8 average) last season with the old-school, havoc-creating, busted facemask-making runs made for the Big Ten. The former highly-rated fullback recruit doesn’t factor into the passing game, but his counterpart Belton makes up for it. The former high school quarterback was recruited as a wide receiver, and though former head coach Bill O’Brien eventually switched him to running back, look no further than his 15-catch performance out of the backfield against the Michigan Wolverines to recognize the threat.
Where Zwinak leaves defenders physically bruised, Belton messes with their egos with crowd-pleasing moves that put them on the wrong end of posters. Don’t confuse him for all flash and no substance, though. With 800 yards and 5.1 yards per carry, he’s proven he could handle the bulk of the carries for any program around the country, providing the good decision-making and mental stability every great back had ticking under their helmet.
Meanwhile, the sophomore Lynch is the present and the future, with a skill set that suggests he has been equally diligent in studying both of his senior running mates. In his first game action last season, Lynch ran for over 100 yards against the Eastern Michigan Eagles and Kent State Golden Flashes with under 15 carries in each game, producing first-down runs with the brawn and big-play potential that surely brought smiles to his teammates’ faces. His will to push his fellow backs for carries will be the heartbeat of the offense.
The body, mind and heart of the Nittany Lions’ running game, Zwinak, Belton and Lynch will be head coach James Franklin‘s monster in 2014.