STATE COLLEGE – Bill Belton put the Nittany Lions into scoring position, and Zach Zwinak finished the job.
With Penn State freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg struggling on a sloppy, rain-soaked afternoon, the Nittany Lions’ running back tandem was a formidable one-two punch in a 34-0 win over Kent State on Saturday.
Zwinak had 65 yards rushing and scored three times – all from within 2 yards – for the second consecutive week, but this time in a win as the Penn State (3-1) bounced back from a 34-31 loss to Central Florida.
“Scoring’s one thing, but as long as we get the win it doesn’t matter how many times you score or who scores,” said Zwinak, who upped his season total to eight touchdowns.
Zwinak felt bad for Belton, who did most of the work.
“It’s rough when we get down to the 1 or 2, because the chances are we might change our personnel,” Zwinak said. “Those are his touchdowns in the end.”
Belton’s 28-yard scamper set up Zwinak’s 2-yard plunge to put Penn State up 14-0 in the second quarter. In the third quarter, Zwinak’s 1-yard plunge came immediately after Belton’s 11-yard run.
“I’m thankful he got me down there and I got the opportunity to go in,” Zwinak said.
No worries, said Belton, who had 90 yards rushing and a 15-yard touchdown catch.
“It’s all good for the team,” he said. “We play off each other. Whoever has a big game, we’re all happy for each other.”
And don’t forget Akeel Lynch, who had a career-best 123 yards rushing once the game got out of hand for a Penn State running attack that totaled 287 yards.
The defense bounced back, too. After allowing 507 yards against UCF, the Nittany Lions limited Kent State (1-3) to 190 yards offense and nine first downs.
Add it up, and it left coach Bill O’Brien and company feeling a lot better about themselves entering a bye week off before opening the Big Ten Conference portion of their schedule at Indiana on Oct. 5.
“Any time you win, your team gets better. They gain confidence, they gain more trust in one another,” said O’Brien.
Penn State improved to 10-3 in its past 13 games. And O’Brien is off to a better start after opening his first season last year at 2-2.
Kent State (1-3) lost its third straight game since opening the season with a 17-10 win over Liberty. The Golden Flashes’ offense lacked spark without its top threat, running back Dri Archer, who continues to be hampered by an injury to his left ankle. After playing sparingly in a 45-13 loss at LSU last week, Archer did not play against Penn State.
First-year coach Paul Haynes considered it more important to have Archer ready for Mid-American Conference opponents.
“We made the decision early he wasn’t going to play,” Haynes said of Archer, who had 1,429 yards rushing last season. “With him banged up, it’s more important that he plays in conference.”
Very little went right for Kent State from the start, which squandered an opportunity to take the lead on its first possession when kicker Anthony Melchiori pushed a 31-yard field-goal attempt wide right.
Quarterback Colin Reardon finished 12 of 28 for 100 yards passing and an interception as Kent State was limited to 190 yards offense and nine first downs. He was also yanked for the first possession of the second half in favor of senior David Fisher, before returning for the following series.
The Golden Flashes have now been shut out in consecutive games against the Nittany Lions following a 24-0 loss at Happy Valley in 2010.
Hackenberg struggled in going 13 of 35 for 176 yards with a touchdown and interception.
The defense was led by safety Ryan Keiser who had four tackles, a sack and a key interception that came one play after Hackenberg was picked off by Dylan Farrington to give Kent State the ball at midfield midway through the third quarter.
“That was a huge play,” linebacker Glenn Carson said. “I think we were a little down after that turnover and we just got the ball right back.”
Penn State kicker Sam Ficken hit two field goals, including a 54-yard – the longest by a Penn State kicker at Beaver Stadium. The school record is 55, set by Chris Bahr in 1975.