UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State offensive lineman John Urschel recalls the first time he saw teammate Mike Zordich carry the football.
I remember my true freshman season, he was a linebacker and got switched to fullback for bowl practice, Urschel said. He got the ball a couple of times and he ran just hard as could be. I had no clue he had it in him. He was just running people over. From then on, I just knew he was a hitter.
And now that hes starting at tailback for the Nittany Lions, the hits just keep on coming.
Zordichs pile-driving carries set the tone early and paved the way for some more hard running from backup Zach Zwinak in the second- half of Saturdays 24-13 romp against Temple that wasnt as close as the final score indicated.
Zordich rushed for 62 of his 75 yards and had three catches for 39 yards as the Nittany Lions built a 14-3 lead by intermission. His 101 total yards were five more than Temple had in the half and could have paved the way for even more points had Penn State not taken itself out of scoring position with penalties and a turnover.
Zordichs style is anything but graceful. Hes a hammer. Its one cut, lower the shoulder and run into anything thats in the way.
While he had a the teams season-high with a 16-yard carry, the majority of his damage is done in pounding out four and five-yard chunks. He averaged exactly five yards per carry against the Owls.
Hes a great running back, offensive tackle Eric Shrive said. Hes a tough kid. Hes running hard back there. If you open a little hole for him, hes going to get through it.
Theyre nice words for a guy who wasnt expected to get many touches this season. Zordich was supposed to get an occasional carry at fullback and open the holes for others, as he has in previous seasons.
But injuries to three tailbacks led Coach Bill OBrien to make the Youngstown, Ohio, native the featured tailback for the past two games. Zordich responded with 50 yards on 11 carries in a 34-7 romp against Navy and his productive day against the Owls. Zordichs 125 yards in those games are more than four times the 30 yards he gained all of last season.
It was a good time, Zordich said of his afternoon against Temple. The offensive line was getting off the ball. I was able to find some holes and just have a good time out there playing football.
Having a good time means punishing anyone who gets in his way. While Zordich gets hit, he often deals out more damage to the tackler.
I wouldnt want to have to tackle that guy, Urschel said. He was running hard today, and that definitely wears down a defense when youve got a running back lowering his pads, lowering his shoulder and running into you every single play. It definitely wears on a defense, wears on the linebackers and wears on the secondary. He did a phenomenal job of that.
That wreckage takes its toll as the game wears on.
Zwinak, who rushed for a game-high and career-high 94 yards (all in the second half), said he benefited from following Zordich into the game.
He definitely set a tough pace, Zwinak said. The kid is a hammer and he definitely wore them down. He ran over some people, too. He definitely set a tone that, Were coming out. Were going to play and that were not going to back down.
And while hes a hammer, Zordich is more than a brute. He provided one of the games highlight plays by trying to hurdle Temple defensive back Vaughn Carraway near the Penn State sidelines in the second quarter. Zordich showed more ups than one would expect from a 6-foot-1, 236-pounder.
It was down from me but I heard about it, Zwinak said of the play. I heard he had quite a vertical on it.
When asked if the words vertical and Zordich were strange in the same sentence, Zwinak begged to differ.
Zordich is one hell of an athlete, Zwinak said. Hes strong. Hes fast. He does it all. Hes a great athlete.
Along with linebacker Michael Mauti, Zordich has been an eloquent spokesman for the squad during the hard times and NCAA sanctions that have engulfed the program in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal.
His blue-collar attitude typifies a team that may not always get the job done with style points, but is determined to win.
Saturday afternoons have become a treasured sanctuary, especially for a senior.
Just have fun playing the game thats really what were here to do, Zordich said. We work so hard all week. We have so much going on with classes, meetings, work and meetings. Theres just so much that each Saturday you have to go out there and have fun beating the guy across from you.
Not long after those comments was whisked out of the postgame new conference for the trainers room.
He left the game late in the third quarter after taking a shot to the left knee while catching a pass out of the backfield.
Zordich limped off the field and spent some time on the trainers table before getting an icepack on the knee. While OBrien said he had not received an official prognosis, television reports said Zordich had a sprained knee.
He did not limp or have ice on his knee during his short time with the press.
Hes a tough kid, OBrien quipped when asked about the injury. Hell probably spit on it and it will be all right.
I took a little hit, Zordich said. Ill just have to ice it up and get back.
Whether hes at fullback or tailback, teammates know that with the Big Ten schedule starting next week at Illinois that its important to have Zordich on the field.
Hes one of toughest guys we have on the team, quarterback Matt McGloin said. Hes one of the hardest workers we have on the team. I really cant say enough about him. As hard of a worker as he is, hes a better person. Im happy to have him in the backfield. I hope hes all right. Im sure hell be fine.