The sun begins to set over the excitable crowd at Beaver Stadium. The date is September 25, 2010, and life in Happy Valley is still simple. There are no trials to worry about or sanctions to debate. It’s a picturesque day for college football, but not everything is as perfect as the weather may indicate. Nerves from fans in blue and white can be sensed miles away as the Penn State Nittany Lions are in jeopardy of losing to the Temple Owls for the first time since 1941.
The Nittany Lions are actually winning 15-13, but the lead hardly feels safe. Joe Paterno’s squad has made three trips into the red zone but has nothing but field goals to show for it. The Nittany Lions need some extra energy to put the game away late in the fourth quarter.
Enter Michael Zordich.
The then sophomore fullback takes a 1st and 10 handoff from Rob Bolden at the Temple 15 yard line. Initially, it looks like a pedestrian two yard carry, but the 6-1 236 lb ball carrier has other plans.
He runs over one Temple defender, through another, and is finally taken down by five Owls after an eight yard gain. Zordich pops up screaming and pumping his arms. (Watch the 5:28 mark of this video to see for yourself) His ensuing carry picks up a first down. The one after that is a game-clinching touchdown.
Two years removed from the memorable final plays of that ninety six yard drive, Zordich’s role is more important than ever. With the threat of all hell breaking loose in the final week of July, he helped his coach hold the team together. His hair has grown scruffier, but the fire and intensity that was on display almost two years ago is still the same as the Nittany Lions prepare for another meeting with the Owls.
That drive helped launch his career as he found the end zone for the first time, but if original plans held up, it never would have happened. Zordich, whose father played safety for Penn State in the early 1980s, was recruited to Happy Valley as a linebacker. It was only after he arrived in 2008 and spent over a season in the program that the decision was made for Zordich to convert to fullback.
The decision has paid dividends as Zordich comes off one of his best games as a Nittany Lion that saw him register a career high in carries (11), rushing yards (50), and receiving yards (25). The eleven carries were partially due to running backs Bill Belton and Derek Day both missing the contest against Navy due to injury, but Zordich wouldn’t mind if the touches became a regular thing.
Bill O’Brien and center Matt Stankiewitch both said that their teammate is always lobbying for more opportunities, reminding his coach that he ran the ball all throughout high-school in addition to playing linebacker. Zordich does not believe his style has changed much from his days as a standout two-way player at Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown, Ohio, calling himself a “downhill, one-cut runner.”
While he has come across as one of the guys who has everything figured out, this year is new for Zordich too, as the starting fullback job is completely his following the graduation of Joe Suhey. Adding some more carries to his name may not be too late as the senior looks to improve a Nittany Lions rushing attack that ranks in the bottom quarter of the NCAA and is still without a rushing touchdown after three games. They are slowly getting better but know that more progress is still needed.
Perhaps Zordich will register the first one of 2012. The Nittany Lions have scored a combined total of three touchdowns in their last two games against the Owls, and he has two of them. If he is not the one to find pay dirt, there is a good possibility that he will be blocking for whoever does. When reminded about the absence of rushing touchdowns so far, he does not appear worried. Neither do his younger teammates in the backfield.
Follow the leader.
Notes from Bill O’Brien’s press conference:
- It sounds as if true freshman linebacker Nyeem Wartman will not be back anytime soon. A knee injury has been keeping him out of action, and it appears serious.
- Belton and Day are once again listed as “possible” on the weekly injury report. O’Brien said that Belton is a bit ahead of Day right now, but both appear somewhat uncertain for Saturday.
- Left tackle Donovan Smith did not appear on the injury report, but his coach described him as “day-to-day,” still dealing with a hamstring injury.
- O’Brien wishes he got Paul Jones some more snaps at the F tight end position last week and will look to do so this Saturday.
- O’Brien has talked with Temple head coach Steve Addazio before and said he has been very supportive of Penn State.
- Nothing really stuck out as “Quote of the Day” material, but O’Brien did literally knock on wood when asked about his offense not turning the ball over in the red zone.