Penn State Football

Feed Zwinak to fuel ground game

CDT photo

Dear Zach Zwinak,

Just wanted to drop you a note and say that many of us who follow Penn State football miss you.

Sure, we see you standing there on the sidelines on Saturday afternoons, but it’s just not the same.

You see, we got used to you out in the middle of the green grass at Beaver Stadium.

Two years and nearly 2,000 yards, that will endear you to people.

But this year, we rarely see you tote the pigskin, whether it’s at home or on the road.

Halfway through the season, you’ve got just 40 carries. Heck, you had 35 against Nebraska last November.

You’ve got just 112 yards this season. You had more yards than that — 150, 149, 149, 115 — in each of the final four games last fall. You entered the season with 11 career 100-yard games, 10th on the school’s all-time list.

What gives?

We’re sure you’ve asked yourself the same question.

Yes, we know all about how bad the offensive line is this season.

As a team, Penn State is 122nd out of 124 FBS teams in rushing, averaging just 93.2 yards per game. Throw out the 229 yards rushing against an overmatched UMass that skewed the numbers and the Nittany Lions would likely be looking up at every FBS team.

Even the most fervent Penn State supporter would have to agree that this line is one of the worst in school history.

But is that the only reason we aren’t seeing you carry the ball more often?

Some of us don’t think so.

Your previous two seasons there was a common denominator.

Bill O’Brien.

You had a coach who appreciated what you brought to the table. And once you got over a fumble problem by putting on some gloves last season, he gave you the ball — repeatedly.

During those last four games, you toted the rock 109 times. That’s probably more snaps than you’ve seen this season.

But O’Brien is gone to the NFL, trying to get Arian Foster more carries and figuring out how to win with a new No. 14 (Ryan Fitzpatrick) at quarterback.

James Franklin and his coaching staff are now here.

And while we’re sure he appreciates your talent, we honestly believe he doesn’t know what to do with you.

Honestly, it was sort of that way when we were all introduced to you in that crazy first year of NCAA sanctions.

Injuries opened up a spot for you in the backfield and you burst through the hole.

You weren’t the prototypical tailback, but maybe that’s why we liked you so much.

Instead of blazing around the ends, you ran over and through would-be tacklers. You punished them for getting in your way and you almost always were headed North, instead of South.

You reminded some of us old-timers of fullback Jim Taylor. The Green Bay Packers great would rather run over a tackler than around him. He was pretty good at it for Vince Lombardi’s squad, racking up 8,597 yards and 83 touchdowns on the way to the Hall of Fame.

At 6-foot-1, 233-pounds you do resemble Taylor, who went 6-foot, 215.

We know you’re sharing time in the backfield with Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch. Belton is getting the most carries and playing time and in no way are we disparaging his talents.

It’s just that we don’t feel that Franklin and offensive coordinator John Donovan have ever seen a tailback like you.

They’ve had you taking pitches and even snaps in the Wildcat.

That’s not exactly the forte for a 230-pound battering ram.

And let’s face it, while Franklin often talks about being committed to the ground game, it is usually abandoned before halftime (sometimes even before the first TV timeout).

That leaves everything up to Christian Hackenberg, certainly a talent with a rifle arm. But the sophomore has to use it too often. He’s averaging 38 passes a game.

That’s 38 throws and doesn’t count the time he’s been scrambling for his life. He’s been sacked 20 times and hit many more.

We think it would be a big help for Hackenberg, who has just five TD passes, if defenses hit on you a few more times. We’re pretty sure you would love to take a few more hits.

Especially this Saturday afternoon.

We don’t have to tell you, this ain’t Akron you’re playing.

Ohio State is still steaming from its upset loss to Virginia Tech. The only way Urban Meyer can keep his team in the mix for one of the four college football payoff berths is to smash the rest of the Buckeyes’ opponents.

They’ve done a pretty good job of it, hanging up at least 50 on their last four opponents.

And we’re sure we don’t have to remind you guys that Meyer will smack you. We’re sure the 63-14 drubbing at The Horseshoe last season is still a raw memory.

Here’s hoping we see more of you Zach these final six games.

The coaching staff has had two bye weeks sandwiched around a loss to Michigan (a game in which you got just three carries) to try to figure something out to bring the offense around.

Some of us would hope you’re in their plans.

It seems like such a waste to see you standing there.


Folks who miss Zach