Penn State routs Purdue behind Zwinak's 3 TDs
UNIVERSITY PARK — Earlier this week, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien insisted his team's focus wasn't going to be an issue against lowly Purdue.
But just in case, O'Brien — by way of Boilermakers coach Darrell Hazell — provided some motivation for his players anyway.
Zach Zwinak had three rushing touchdowns as the Nittany Lions dominated along the offensive and defensive lines in a 45-21 win against Purdue on Saturday afternoon.
Penn State (6-4, 3-3) handed Purdue (1-9, 0-6) its eighth straight defeat by running up a season-high 292 rushing yards and 501 total yards.
“We felt like we could run the ball. I'm not sure if they felt that we could run the ball against them,” an annoyed O'Brien said to open his postgame press conference. “I think they felt Wisconsin and Iowa were better than us – and that's for you to judge.
“We rushed for 290 yards today. I would say that's pretty good.”
O'Brien was making a thinly-veiled reference to comments earlier this week from Hazell, the Boilermarkers' first-year coach.
Asked during his weekly news conference Tuesday about “power” running, Hazell said: “Penn State is a zone team. Now is Penn State as good up front as Iowa and Wisconsin? They're good. I don't think they're as good as those two teams.”
Several copies of the quote were posted throughout the Lions' locker room and facility. Soon after the game, right tackle Garry Giliam tweeted a photo of Hazell's statement with the caption, “Never say anything that is bulletin board material! Guess we showed him!”
Penn State also got rushing touchdowns from Bill Belton and quarterback Christian Hackenberg in amassing 58 carries – the most it had during a game in eight years.
“It was a real fun game for us with respect to just coming off the ball and hitting plays,” Penn State right guard John Urschel said. “The offensive linemen, we really enjoyed it.”
Zwinak had 149 yards on 26 carries, and Belton had 19 rushes for 84 yards – but he fumbled for the second consecutive game.
Penn State had 31 first downs, as many as it had since Oct. 1, 2005, when it had 35 first downs and 59 rushes against Minnesota.
The Lions did not punt Saturday.
Hackenberg passed for 212 yards and a touchdown. But he threw an interception in the fourth quarter for Penn State, which avoided losing consecutive games for the first time since the opening two games of the 2012 season.
Penn State's defense allowed a Purdue team that has been inept in Big Ten play (6.2 points/game) to score its most points since a 55-24 loss to Northern Illinois on Sept. 28. One of the Boilermakers' touchdowns was a 100-yard kickoff return by Raheem Mostert in the second quarter, the longest the Lions had allowed in 19 years.
The Lions allowed two big passing plays that led to Purdue's two offensive touchdowns, but they sacked Boilermakers freshman quarterback Danny Etling six times and forced a season high-tying three turnovers.
“We had sacks today because we had tight coverage. We had picks today because we had pressure on the quarterback,” defensive tackle DaQuan Jones said. “It all goes hand-in-hand.”
Zwinak's 12 touchdowns are the most by a Penn State player in a season since Evan Royster in 2008. He scored during each of the first three quarters: from 1, 1 and 5 yards.
“It's just about confidence in the whole team – the entire team – when you're running the ball,” cornerback Adrian Amos said. “That's the thing coach O'Brien really stresses.”
Allen Robinson had eight receptions (for 98 yards) to give him a Penn State-record 81 for the season.
Young tight ends Jesse James and Adam Breneman each made a big play. Breneman had an 8-yard touchdown reception that gave Penn State a 28-7 lead late in the first half. James added a 58-yard reception during the Lions' first drive of the second half, setting up a Sam Ficken 29-yard field goal.
Hackenberg outdueled his friend, freshman counterpart Etling, who was 21 for 33 for 223 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Penn State guaranteed itself its ninth consecutive nonlosing season. The Lions' final home game is against Nebraska next Saturday, and they finish at Wisconsin on Nov. 30.
“This game gave us a little more confidence,” Penn State linebacker Mike Hull said. “We realized we can go out there and play fast and play physical, and we're going to need that next week against Nebraska.”