IOWA CITY, Iowa — Running backs coach Charles London wasn’t bluffing when he said two days before Saturday’s game against Iowa that Bill Belton would occupy a big role in Penn State’s offense.
Belton became the Nittany Lions’ featured back in a decisive 38-14 victory Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
On Penn State’s first offensive play, Matt McGloin completed a pass to Belton. The play resulted in the Nittany Lions gaining 10 yards because of a holding penalty against the Hawkeyes.
The play foreshadowed plenty of work for Belton.
By the end of the first quarter, Belton had 41 yards on six carries. By halftime, he had 68 yards on eight carries.
He finished with a career-high 103 yards on 16 carries. He scored on an 11-yard run with 5:53 left in the second quarter and added two more touchdowns in the third.
“Going into a game week, you have to definitely prepare yourself for being a big part of the game,” Belton said. “That’s basically what I did. I practiced hard and practiced basically to the best of my ability.”
Belton darted around the Iowa defense multiple times, a sign his left ankle has fully recovered from a high sprain suffered in the season opener against Ohio University.
“Physically, I felt like I did the right things this week and getting get back in there and doing extra stuff with my ankle,” he said. “It definitely paid off.”
Starting fast — again
Penn State’s first-quarter dominance continues.
With a charged crowd of 70,585 fans filling Kinnick Stadium, Penn State quickly built a 14-0 lead. The Nittany Lions have outscored their seven opponents 66-0 in the first quarter.
Penn State outgained Iowa 187-66 and held a 10-2 advantage in first downs early in the quarter.
“We talk a lot about how to start the game and what our opening plays are, what are opening defenses are and how we are going to play on special teams,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “I think our guys understand how we want to start the game. It has worked out pretty well this so far.”
Stuffing the run
The mystery surrounding Mark Weisman’s status ended when the sophomore appeared in the backfield for Iowa’s second offensive series.
Weisman, who sprained his ankle last weekend at Michigan State, had his least effective game since becoming a major part of Iowa’s offense. Penn State held Weisman to nine yards on five carries, ending his streak of 100-yard rushing games at four.
True freshman Greg Garmon, who attended District 10 McDowell High School, started at tailback and gained 27 yards on seven carries for the Hawkeyes.
The Nittany Lions held the Hawkeyes to 20 rushing yards on 23 carries.
“They play very hard, they play very good within the scheme,” coach Bill O’Brien said of his defense. “They communicate. To this point in the season, it has been fun to watch them every week communicate out there.”
Snapper Michael Fuhrman, tight end J.R. Refice and linebacker James Van Fleet served as Penn State’s captains.
Under O’Brien, Penn State is rotating its game captains among seniors. Twenty-one players have received the honor this season.
Van Fleet will miss the entire season because of a torn ACL suffered in spring drills.
Kickin’ it around
Iowa kicker Mike Meyer missed a 49-yard field goal in the first quarter. He had made 13 straight field goals before his kick sailed wide left. Meyer’s woes extended into the second quarter as he missed a 38-yarder wide right.
While the usually reliable Meyer struggled, Penn State’s Sam Ficken drilled a 34-yarder in the second quarter. Ficken, who missed a 43-yarder that was partially blocked in the fourth quarter, entered the game 3-of-9 on field goal attempts.
Penn State won the coin toss and deferred to the second half. It was the first time this season Penn State didn’t receive the ball to begin a game. ... Iowa left tackle Brandon Scherff left the game via cart in the first quarter because of a right leg injury. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz told reporters the injury will end Scherff’s season.
Follow Guy Cipriano on Twitter @cdtguy.