UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Somehow running back Mike Zordich might carry the football as much as anyone else for Penn State this Saturday. The senior, who entered this season with 35 career rushes, likely will be counted on as the lead running back for the second week in a row.
Zordich ran the ball 11 times for 50 yards against Navy last week, tying for the team lead with Curtis Dukes. He had the opportunity because of the injuries to Bill Belton and Derek Day. Their absences have allowed Zordich to get offensive opportunities he has long waited for.
"With the injuries there, we felt like he was a guy we wanted to get on the field a little more," coach Bill O'Brien said.
Every so often Zordich would express a desire to expand his offensive role. He would remind Bill O'Brien that he could carry the ball, too. His wish was subtle, though, not pushy, and, as Zordich says, never a complaint.
It had no reason to sound like a plea.
He didn't dislike his status on the team. Since his sophomore season, Zordich has been one of Penn State's primary run blockers. Many times, when a running back like Silas Redd or Dukes touched the ball, he would hustle in front of him, attempting to fend off a linebacker.
"I know Mike Zordich and know he doesn't mind blocking at all," center Matt Stankiewitch said. "He just runs into guys. He loves it."
Setting up for the others, Zordich averaged fewer than two carries per game before this season. The transition from runner to blocker at first tested him.
Back in high school, at Cardinal Mooney in Youngstown, Ohio, Zordich rushed for more than 1,700 yards and 25 touchdowns his final two years, splitting time with two other running backs. He left as a four-star recruit.
In another crowded backfield at Penn State, Zordich became the blocker and months ago, even under O'Brien, there seemed little reason for those responsibilities to change. O'Brien said Zordich's comments about running the ball sounded like the scene in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" when actor Ben Stein keeps repeating Bueller's name.
"You have to learn to accept your role on the team," Zordich said. "I accepted my role but kept pushing to let coach O'Brien know I could do certain things."
Redd transferred before the season started. Then Belton sprained his ankle against Ohio University and has yet to return to full strength. Then Day injured his shoulder and didn't play against Navy. If O'Brien had reservations about Zordich, he pretty much had to believe his assurances that he could still run.
Zordich spent last week preparing for more carries. He had to reexamine the playbook and different reads, but had little to learn otherwise. On Saturday, he rushed twice on the team's opening drive. His longest run of the game was for 9 yards.
With Day and Belton still considered day to day, Zordich likely will be counted on again. He has to be a primary rusher, and he's pleased that he finally is.
"Once I got used to doing it, I felt better and better," he said. "I had a lot of fun doing it."
NOTE -- Penn State has received its second commitment since NCAA sanctions were imposed. Two-star safety Kasey Gaines committed to Penn State, according to Rivals. Gaines, a 5-10, 160-pounder, attends Grayson High School in Loganville, Ga. He had offers from Harvard, Howard, Virginia Military Institute and Presbyterian.psusports