Penn State’s Belton Plows Ahead

Nittany Lion senior running back is focused on helping the team’s ground game get started. The emotional win over Rutgers is in the rearview mirror.

Penn State tailback Bill Belton is happy to put last week behind him, happy that he can now discuss something other than his home-state school and the brouhaha surrounding a game against it.

One week after Rutgers turned his preseason comments into fuel for its motivational fire (the New Jersey native said he chose PSU over RU coming out of high school because he wanted to play “big-time college football”) and just a few days after he scored the winning touchdown in the Lions' 13-10 victory over the Scarlet Knights, the discussion centers on Massachusetts. Just Massachusetts.

“We're just continuing to do what we do every day, which is go out and practice hard and get better at our craft,” he said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday, as the Lions (3-0) get ready for Saturday's game against the Minutemen (0-3) in Beaver Stadium. “All the outside noise (last week) really didn't mean anything in the first place, but we're just ready to go out and prepare for UMass.”

The noise continued after the victory over the Knights, a game in which Belton went five yards for the decisive TD with 1:13 left.

“They've been chirping all week in the media,” Belton said of the Knights then. “They asked for a big-time game, and they got one.”

He was also asked about his original comments.

“I stand by my statement,” he said.

There were some New Jersey-based media outlets that construed that as Belton rubbing it in, but he had no desire to address such matters on Wednesday.

“I can't talk about that,” he said. “All I can say is, we're on to UMass and we'll focus on the next game.”

The Minutemen, blown out by Boston College in their season opener, have lost 41-38 to Colorado and 34-31 to Vanderbilt in their last two games. They are 111th in the country in total offense (360.3 yards per game) and 115th in rushing offense (82.3), as well as 95th in total defense (431.7), 101st in scoring defense (35.0 ppg) and 106th in rushing defense (218.0).

That last number is of particular interest to Belton and a running game looking to gain traction. The Lions are averaging a paltry 75.7 yards a game on the ground, 117th in the nation.

“The breakout game, it will come,” he said. “It will come. As long as we stay patient with the running game and continue to work and continue to learn, I'm pretty sure we'll have success on the ground very, very soon.”

He noted, as others have, that the Lions are woefully inexperienced up front, that only tackle Donovan Smith had any starting experience before this season and that two defensive linemen -- Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia -- were moved to the O-line in the spring. Gaia remains a starter, at guard.

“Whenever you have that (inexperience), it's going to take time to build chemistry and stuff like that, so we're just continuing to work out the kinks,” Belton said. “Like I said before, it's going to take a little bit to get that chemistry down and for everyone to get comfortable with playing with each other. I think that we're very, very close to getting the running game going.”

He has run for a team-high 88 yards, albeit on 34 carries, an average of just 2.6 yards per attempt. Zach Zwinak (24-69-2.9) has also had a hard time getting untracked. And while Akeel Lynch's numbers look OK (9-50-5.6), seven of those attempts, and 45 of those yards, came in the 18-point victory over Akron.

They face a UMass team that runs a 3-4 featuring “a bunch of funky looks up front,” according to Belton -- looks that he claims confuse “a lot of people,” though the numbers would indicate otherwise.

“If we stick to our rules and do what we have to do,” he said, “I think we'll be in good shape. But they're a very confusing defense and they do a lot of good things to confuse the offenses.”

Like all the Lions' seniors, it has been an interesting run for Belton. All of them are playing for their fifth head coach (counting interims) in James Franklin, which Belton said bothers him not a bit.

“Whatever they come in and ask you to do,” he said, “you just have to buy in and just go to work.”

“Whatever they come in and ask you to do, you just have to buy in and just go to work.”

A high school quarterback, he began his career as a receiver before making the move to the backfield, and entered the 2012 season as the starting tailback. Then he was injured, and Zwinak emerged. Last year the two of them worked in tandem, with Belton generated 803 yards on 157 rushes and 158 yards on 15 receptions. He also memorably scored the winning touchdown in the quadruple-overtime thriller against Michigan.

He has become a willing blocker, especially in pass situations, even though that whole concept was foreign to him at first.

“It's got to be something that you want to do,” he said. “It was tough at first, but it was something that continually had to be worked on each day. Ever since Coach (Charles) Huff got here we've been working on pass protection each day, so I think that helped with the improvement of it.”

He remains a capable receiver, with nine receptions for 114 yards and a score, and at times runs the Lions' version of the Wildcat as well.

“Coach Huff tells us to be the best player for the offense,” he said, “which means whatever we're asked to do, be the best at what you're doing.”

Time is ticking down now for Belton, though. There are nine regular-season games left in his career, and counting.

“It's something that I don't really like to think about like that,” he said. “I just try to work my hardest and leave everything out on the field. Therefore I don't have any regrets.”

There is no time for looking back. It is more a matter of continuing to plow ahead, come what may.


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