Don’t look now, but the Penn State Nittany Lions may have finally found themselves a running back worth boasting about in Bill Belton.
The junior was simply outstanding during Penn State’s 24-17 overtime victory against Illinois Saturday, rushing for a career-high 201 yards and a touchdown on 36 carries. His score came on a five-yard run early in the first quarter.
O'Brien in postgame presser: Other than fumble, Belton had "whale of a football game."— Collegian Footblog (@psufootblog) November 2, 2013
According to Penn State assistant director of athletic communications Jeremy Fallis, Belton accomplished something that no Nittany Lion has done in over a decade:
Bill Belton over 200 yards, First #NittanyLion to do so since Larry Johnson in 2002.— Jeremy Fallis (@GoPSUJeremy) November 2, 2013
That’s some pretty good company to be in, as Larry Johnson easily established himself as one of the best running backs ever to have come through State College—that includes rushing performances of 327 and 279 yards on the ground in 2002.
But more importantly, Belton’s performance is a sign of optimism for a rushing attack that has been anything but impressive thus far this season.
Entering Week 10, Penn State ranked No. 86 in rushing, averaging 151.9 yards per game. Furthermore, the team found the end zone just 13 times on the ground while mustering only 3.7 yards per carry.
Zach Zwinak, last year’s leading rusher, hasn’t helped the cause.
After rushing for 297 yards and eight touchdowns on 67 carries (4.43 YPC) through the first four contests, the senior has only managed 130 yards and 34 carries (3.82 YPC) over the last four. Three fumbles—all recovered by the opponent—have been Zwinak’s undoing.
That has opened the door for Belton.
Through eight games, the Sicklerville, N.J. native has racked up 668 yards and four touchdowns on 128 carries. He’s also brought in 11 passes for another 103 yards and two scores.
Belton did have a costly fumble at the 1-yard line Saturday. However, it was only a minor blip compared to the several other things he did exceptionally well.
It would be a surprise if the Nittany Lions didn’t utilize a heavy dose of Belton moving forward.
All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of NCAA.com