UNIVERSITY PARK — Zach Zwinak blasted his way to a second 100-yard rushing game in as many weeks, but Penn State coach Bill O'Brien has no plans to anoint the redshirt sophomore as his No. 1 running back.
“Zach has played well,” O'Brien said, “but that's a competition every single week.”
Zwinak may well end the competition if he keeps bludgeoning defenses the way he did two weeks ago at Illinois and Saturday in a 39-28 win over visiting Northwestern.
The 6-foot-2, 238-pounder rushed for a game-high 121 yards and a touchdown, helping Penn State dominate time of possession and keeping Northwestern's offense tethered to the visiting sidelines.
Zwinak, who had a career-high 28 carries, also caught six passes for 52 yards.
Bill Belton started at running back, but three of his four carries came on Penn State's opening possession. The sophomore, who missed three games earlier this season because of a sprained ankle, did not play in the second half.
Fullback Michael Zordich spelled Zwinak when the latter needed a breather, and O'Brien said the coaching staff wanted to wear down Northwestern with a physical running game.
“It's nothing against Billy Belton,” O'Brien said. “He's a very, very good football player, (but) there's only one ball. He understands his role, and he'll come to practice next week competing for his role.”
Zwinak, who had three total carries after the first three games of the season, leads Penn State with 317 rushing yards. He said he is content with whatever role O'Brien wants him to play.
“You going in each week understanding there is a running back by committee,” Zwinak said. “If you're not working hard, (O'Brien's) not going to play you.”
Talking to himself
A questionable pass interference call on Penn State cornerback Stephon Morris extended a Northwestern touchdown drive near the end of the first half.
But O'Brien said he wasn't unloading on officials a couple of plays after the call when he went onto the field to check on the injured Morris. Nor did he have any exchange with Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, O'Brien said, even though it looked like something was said between the two.
“I didn't yell at Pat Fitzgerald,” O'Brien said. “I didn't yell at anybody. I was mad at myself, that's all it was.”
Scott Brown is a staff writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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