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Penn State Dominant In 45-21 Victory Against Purdue

There may have been a few scares along the way, but the Nittany Lions (6-4, 3-3) did what they were supposed to do against a weak Purdue team on Saturday afternoon, dominating the Boilermakers (1-9, 0-6) to the tune of a 45-21 victory. Penn State got a few things wrong, but the two things that the team certainly got right were running the football and creating turnovers.

Purdue is a team that has one of the worst run defenses in the country, giving up over 200 yards per game on the ground before they entered Beaver Stadium on Saturday.

It was a group effort, with Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton, Akeel Lynch, and even Christian Hackenberg chipping in. The end result was an outstanding 289 rushing yards on 58 carries with five touchdowns on the ground.

Despite some of the fumbling issues continuing, the run game was excellent all four quarters, finding holes, breaking tackles, and dragging linemen down the field for extra yardage. The running backs don’t get all the credit for their stellar performance of course, as the linemen in the trenches in front of them have to do the dirty work to create those open lanes.

“That’s an offensive lineman’s dream, to just run the ball every single down,” John Urschel said. “This was a real fun game for us with respect to just coming off the ball and hitting guys. It’s good for the spirit of the whole team. We tried to really come out and play physical and we got the job done.”

Just a few weeks ago, Zwinak was in the proverbial doghouse. He lost his starting job to Belton after nearly costing the team the game against Michigan. Fast forward to Saturday and he ran the ball 26 times for 149 yards and three, count ‘em, three touchdowns.

“As a running back, obviously you’re going to want to run the ball,” Zwinak said. “It was nice to see the run called that many times. The line was blocking great and the tight ends were blocking great, opening up big holes for us and we just had to find them.”

While Bill O’Brien was certainly happy with the success his offense had establishing the run, he may have been more satisfied that they were able to play his favorite brand of football all game long. That brand is of course complementary football, when the offense complements the defense and so on.

After struggling to create turnovers and take the ball away all season long, the defense had a huge game on Saturday, coming up with one interception and two fumble recoveries. The best part is that the offense drove for a touchdown after each of those turnovers.

“We haven’t created many turnovers this year. Our defense came to play today and we were able to take advantage of those turnovers” O’Brien said. “The defense is doing fine. It plays hard. They play well when they communicate well which they did today. I think the defense did a real nice job today.”

The secondary wasn’t perfect, nor has it been all season long, but that’s no surprise. What may come as a surprise is just how well the front seven and defensive line played, holding Purdue to just 41 rushing yards on 20 attempts.

“I feel like we dominated in the trenches,” DaQuan Jones said. “We came out there and accepted the challenge of stopping the run. We did a pretty good job of that.”

Purdue’s defensive line didn’t do so well, but they can hang the hat on the fact that they forced two fumbles. Zwinak was able to recover his own third quarter drop but Belton was stripped early in the game and saw some bench time because of it.

“They’re good players and they’re great kids. They’re better kids than they are players,” O’Brien said of Belton and Zwinak. “They feel bad about it, I feel bad about it, and I get frustrated. I told them that the reason I get frustrated on the sideline when we fumble the ball is because I have high expectations for the players on this team. You don’t want to overemphasize it, but we have to stop putting the ball on the ground.”

Penn State got off to a quick start in the game, driving 75 yards for a touchdown to open the game with a Bill Belton five-yard run capping off the drive. The defense responded with a three-and-out and soon after, Penn State had a 14-0 lead after Zwinak scored from one yard out.

The defense faltered, allowing a 75-yard touchdown drive, but the offense responded with two of its own in the second quarter. The first was another Zwinak one-yard run, but the second was a little more special as it was the first time Christian Hackenberg and fellow true freshman Adam Breneman connected for a score. He needed a diving reach to put the ball over the plane, but the touchdown gave Penn State a 28-14 lead.

A kickoff return for a touchdown at the end of the first half and a quick seven-play scoring drive in the third quarter brought Purdue right back into the game at 28-21. Unfortunately for the Boilermakers, Penn State’s defense buckled down and the offense got on a roll.

Sam Ficken kicked a field goal from 29 yards out. Zach Zwinak scored on a five-yard run untouched in the third quarter. And Hackenberg took a naked bootleg to the right, selling the fake to Zwinak perfectly as he walked into the end zone. The fake was sold so well because Hackenberg and O’Brien were the only two that knew he was keeping the ball.

“O’Brien I believe told him to keep it and I about had a heart attack on the field,” Zwinak said.

The Nittany Lions have yet to play a truly complete football game all season. The offense was dominant just about all game long on Saturday, but it took the defense until halftime to really settle in and start making plays, similar to last week’s game against Minnesota. Despite there still being unresolved issues on the field this late in the season, O’Brien isn’t worried.

“We have no problem with morale,” he said. “Our team is enthusiastic. They are proud, they love to play football, and they love to play for Penn State. We have no problem with morale and never have since I walked in the door. We throw the word morale around here like it’s a cheeseburger.”

Game notes:

  • Penn State now leads Purdue 13-3-1 in the all-time series. The Nittany Lions have won seven straight games against the Boilermakers.
  • Allen Robinson broke his own single-season receptions record in the game. The previous record — set last season — was 77 catches. Robinson now has 81 with two games left to play.
  • Hackenberg’s 58-yard completion to Jesse James in the third quarter was a career-long for both players.
  • Hackenberg was 16-for-23 in the game with 212 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
  • Jordan Lucas’ interception on Saturday was his third of the season, leading the team.
  • Penn State did not punt in the game, the first that has happened since at least 1997.
  • The Nittany Lions had 31 first downs to Purdue’s 14. The offense converted 10 of 12 third down tries for the best third down conversion percentage of the season. Penn State had 501 total yards to just 264 for the Boilermakers.

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About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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