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Penn State offensive line steps up game at pivotal time

| Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, 7:39 p.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Penn State guard John Urschel looks for a Purdue defender to block while leading running back Bill Belton (left) during their game Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Beaver Stadium in University Park.

It took 10 games into the season — and an overmatched opponent. But the Penn State offensive line is finally living the dream of fully realized potential.

“We were having a blast,” guard John Urschel said of the line against Purdue this past Saturday. “That was an offensive lineman's dream.”

While the Boilermakers (1-9) hardly are a fair measure, the Nittany Lions' offensive line has put together its best three-game stretch of the season heading into a game against Nebraska on Saturday at Beaver Stadium.

“It seems like all of the sudden they're clicking on all cylinders,” fullback Pat Zerbe said.

Since a 63-14 loss at Ohio State that was easily its worst performance of the season (not unlike just about every other unit on the team), Penn State's offensive line has paved the way for some numbers.

Over the course of beating Illinois Nov. 2, losing at Minnesota the following week and the Purdue game, the Lions have averaged 243 rushing yards per game and allowed just two sacks.

In the three conference games before that, Penn State's offense produced an average of 91.7 rushing yards and its quarterback was sacked nine times. Even when factoring in nonconference opponents (two of which were very weak), the statistics most affected by the offensive line have vastly improved. Until this recent three-game stretch, the Lions were averaging 151.9 rushing yards and 2.7 sacks against (19 total) per game.

Other statistics that could, indirectly at least, show the line's improvement over the past three games:

• Penn State had just two rushing touchdowns its first three conference games and eight in the three since.

• The Lions netted minus-116 yards (38.7 per game) on the carries in which they lost yardage in setbacks to Indiana and Ohio State and a win against Michigan in October; they've lost just 17 (5.6 per game) in the three weeks since.

• Along those lines — and arguably most telling in conveying the push the line has been getting in the run game — Penn State's running backs have had just four carries that netted negative yards over the past three games.

“Since the beginning of the year we've been trying to keep growing and getting better as an offensive line and as a unit,” center Ty Howle said. “I feel like our offensive line is playing better, and we're trying to keep improving.”

With 47 starts between its members prior to this season (albeit 11 of which by Garry Gilliam had come at tight end), the offensive line entered 2013 as the most experienced unit on the team. Three full-time starters returned, and the top eight on the depth chart are all at least in their third season.

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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