3 backs, 1 goal for Penn State offense
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Penn State’s three-headed offensive attack will stay intact.
Coach James Franklin said Tuesday that running backs Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak and Akeel Lynch will continue to share the workload, at least until one of them can carry it single-handedly.
That has yet to happen. Inconsistent play from the Nittany Lions’ offensive line has prevented any of the backs from having a breakout game through Penn State’s four straight victories and has forced quarterback Christian Hackenberg to “shoulder a lot of the offense,” according to Franklin.
The tailback rotation has combined for 392 yards on 91 carries and seven touchdowns. Penn State’s scoring offense is 10th in the Big Ten. Its rushing offense, despite 228 yards against Massachusetts, is 13th. The Lions face Northwestern (1-2) at Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
“We don’t really overthink it,” Franklin said. “Basically, each one of them is going to get a series to start the game.
“Obviously, we also have specific plays in the game plan tagged for specific players. So this may be Bill Belton’s series, but this play is tagged for Akeel based on his strengths. That’s where you’ll see guys run in and out and kid of mix things up.
“Basically, we’re going to allow each one of them to get a series and whoever the guy that looks like he’s being the most effective, we’ll go with him a little bit longer or the rest of the game.
“It just kind of depends. We haven’t really gotten to that point yet. All three have shown they can be effective when we’re getting movement up front and creating space. But there’s not one guy separating themselves from the others; we have three quality guys.”
Franklin also labeled penalties - an average of nearly six per game - as “drive-killers.”
Hackenberg’s 1,261 yards passing ranks him eighth in the country and first in the Big Ten. His 315.3 passing yards per game are good for tops in the Big Ten and 20th in the country.
“He’s played extremely well,” Franklin said. “It’s helpful for Hack and it’s also helpful for the play-caller when the run game is working because you double your playbook.
“It also helps in protection because you’re able to wear guys down in the running game, and it takes pressure off the quarterback who doesn’t feel like he has to make every throw.
“The fact that Hack’s been able to pull (the) ball down and take off and get some positive yardage has been really effective for us. We don’t ever want him to be what people would call a dual-threat quarterback, but to pull it down four times a game get us six to 12 yards and get down without taking a hit . those things are really, really valuable.”
Franklin has found consistency on defense. Penn State has allowed just 11 points per game, good for sixth nationally and first in the conference. The 49.5-yard per-game rushing average gives the Lions the No. 1 spot statistically in both.