UNIVERSITY PARK — Two running backs both wearing No. 28 made history Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
But it was Zach Zwinak, who began his sophomore season buried on the Penn State depth chart and finished it as a 1,000-yard rusher and Penn States most punishing offensive weapon, who upstaged Wisconsins Monte Ball in Penn States 24-21 overtime win against the Badgers.
It means a lot, coming in especially not expecting it, Zwinak said of reaching the 1,000-yard mark. It was the last thing on my mind coming into the last two weeks. It was all about running the plays that (Coach Bill OBrien) called.
While Ball set the NCAA career touchdown record with his 97th touchdown on a 17-yard run in the first quarter, Zwinak pounded the Big Tens best run defense down after down to rack up 179 rushing yards to Balls 111.
Wisconsin had only allowed opposing offenses to run for 106 yards per game coming into Saturdays contest.
Zwinak did most of his damage in the second half, when the Nittany Lions, who trailed until early in the fourth quarter, needed him the most. With his physical, always-fall-forward running style, Zwinak posted 17 carries for 87 yards in the second half and overtime.
Meanwhile, the Penn State defense shut Ball down over the second half, limiting the Badger senior to just 27 second-half yards on 14 carries.
In overtime, it looked like Zwinak might not get a shot at getting to 1,000 yards. He went down with an injury during Penn States first overtime possession and was on his back for a few seconds as trainers tended to him. Six yards away from 1,000, Zwinak was able to get up and walk off on his own. Hed later call the injury just cramps.
One play later, he was back in and bulled ahead for a six-yard gain that helped set up Sam Fickens game-winning 37-yard field goal.
Hes just a real physical back, just like Ball is, Penn State linebacker Glenn Carson said of Zwinak. Ive seen him break kids facemasks. Hes a really tough runner and lowers his shoulder. I love watching him play because thats my kind of style of football.
Zwinak, who began spring practice behind Silas Redd, Bill Belton, Curtis Dukes, Michael Zordich and Derek Day on the teams depth chart, finished the season with six 100-plus-yard rushing games, 177 receiving yards and seven total touchdowns.
Pretty good for a player who didnt get a substantial workload until the fourth game of the season.
Zwinaks stat line three weeks into the season? Three carries for two yards. All of those came against Virginia.
It was rough. We had a lot of issues in that game Zwinak said. We sorted it out.
He finished Saturdays game with a few aches and pains, bandages on both hands and no telling what other wraps, cuts or bruises on his arms and legs that were covered by a gray Penn State track suit.
Im a little beat up today, Zwinak said. Ill know more tomorrow or Monday about how my bodys holding up.
The Wisconsin defense, which had only allowed one 100-plus yard rusher in its last four games, couldnt hold up against Zwinaks relentless running.
The Penn State sophomore rumbled ahead for gains of six or more yards 12 times and turned in runs of 15 and 24 yards with the 24-yarder kicking off Penn States third-quarter scoring drive that would eventually bring them within a point of the Badgers.
Oftentimes it took more than one Badger to take him down and when they did, Zwinak always fell forward for an extra yard at the end.
Dont ever fall backwards, Zwinak said. Thats in my head and I always want to fall forward.
Most likely, hell get more chances to fall forward as his career progresses. Toward the end of his chat with reporters, Zwinak reminded his interrogators hes sticking with Penn State for the rest of his career.
We go with the hot back, OBrien said. You rush for (179) yards against Wisconsins defense youre doing something good because Wisconsin has a very stout defense.
And Penn State has another stout, 1,000-yard rushers to add to its history books.
Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @traviswjohnson_.