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Penn State notebook: Belton proves worthy of being featured back

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Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Penn State running back Bill Belton (1) celebrates his 5-yard touchdown run with John Urschel (64) and Adam Breneman (81) in the first quarter Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, in University Park.
Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, 7:09 p.m.

If there was any doubt he was worthy of his promotion to featured back for Penn State, Bill Belton having the Lions' first 200-yard rushing game since 2002 erased it.

If any reservation remained that the 5-foot-10, 210-pound junior could handle workhorse duties, coach Bill O'Brien giving him 36 carries answered that.

“He has really turned the corner in a lot of areas, on and off the field,” O'Brien said.

A converted receiver, Belton has 85 carries for 384 yards in the past three games. Perhaps most impressive, he did not have a carry for negative yardage Saturday against Illinois.

“Having so many touches like that allows you to get into a rhythm, so I'm thankful for the opportunity I've had,” Belton said. “I'm feeling comfortable out there, and I'm seeing certain things I wouldn't have last year.”

Zwinak in gloves

Zach Zwinak made it through a game without fumbling for the first time since Oct. 5. But he wasn't given many chances to lose the ball. Zwinak had just six carries — all in the second quarter — for 25 yards.

After consulting with O'Brien, Zwinak wore gloves in a game for the first time.

“That's more about the individual guy,” O'Brien said. “He wanted to try that, and I thought he went in there and ran tough.

“If Zach had gone in there and broken a bunch of runs, maybe we would have stuck with Zach, but (Belton) was the hot guy.”

Defense lineup changes

Linebacker Ben Kline made his first career start in place of Nyeem Wartman at outside linebacker. Kline, who had offseason shoulder surgery, had a career-high eight tackles.

Shaler's Jesse Della Valle made his second straight start at safety, allowing Adrian Amos to stay at cornerback.

Defensive tackle Austin Johnson came out with the initial first team instead of Kyle Baublitz, but both played. Same at end, where Anthony Zettel earned the start but Deion Barnes played extensively. Zettel had Penn State's lone sack on the final play of regulation.

“Just trying to make a play for the defense to give us a chance to win the game,” Zettel said.

Gress starts

After sharing the right tackle spot with Garry Gilliam over the first seven games of the season, West Mifflin's Adam Gress moved over to the left side. His start Saturday was his first at left tackle, but Donovan Smith was back at the position in the first quarter. All three tackles played extensively.

“It keeps guys fresh. It keeps them pounding on the defensive linemen,” guard Miles Dieffenbach said. “They all three are really good tackles.”

Nittany notes

Penn State entered the game as the least-penalized team in the Big Ten but was flagged 11 times for 95 yards — more yardage than in the past three games combined. “I still need to see the film,” O'Brien said, “but the referees saw a lot of penalties.” ... The announced crowd was 95,131 but appeared much smaller and was late arriving. ... In O'Brien's two seasons, the Nittany Lions are 3-0 in overtime. Penn State has played in multiple overtime games during the same season for the first time since 2002.

— Chris Adamski

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