IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Just in case it wasn't apparent, Bill Belton confirmed that he felt better on Saturday than he had since the opening week of the season. The whole off-week thing did wonders for his ankle.
"Just resting, getting that week off and getting away from football a little bit helped my body recover," the running back said.
He finished with a career-high 103 yards on 16 carries against Iowa. He scored three touchdowns. He did what everyone on Penn State had hoped he would do before suffering an ankle sprain against Ohio.
After that injury, Belton missed the next three games. He played in the last two before Saturday, rushing for 67 yards on 16 carries against Illinois and 12 yards on four carries against Northwestern.
That Northwestern game in particular raised questions about his health. Neither he nor coach Bill O'Brien said the ankle remained much of an issue. After Saturday's game they were more open, both saying how much the off week helped Belton to rest. Belton said that the ankle had not nagged him, but that he had not regained enough strength. The week off allowed time for that to happen.
Against Iowa, Belton broke out on the second drive, rushing for a 3-yard gain, then 6 yards and then 23 yards. That was his longest run of the game. He also had a 16-yard rush, and one for 11 yards that went for a touchdown.
"He took care of the football," O'Brien said. "We saw some plays, and he made the right cuts. I think he's feeling better."
The use of Belton changed the dynamic of Penn State's rushing attack. Against Northwestern it had primarily used Mike Zordich and Zach Zwinak, players who run up the middle and try to knock defenders down. Belton goes to the outside and tries to make them miss.
O'Brien has talked about a running back by committee approach that can work because of the contrasting styles. Saturday night, Belton finally felt good enough to fulfill his side of that equation.
"Bill was running great," offensive lineman Adam Gress said. "He was making us look good the whole time."
In addition to Belton, tight ends continued to make big contributions. This has been the year of the tight end at Penn State. In O'Brien's offense, every tight end on the roster is doing better than he ever previously has. Their breakthroughs got special display during the first half of the Iowa game.
At halftime, four tight ends had combined for nine receptions. Kyle Carter had the most with six, including a 34-yard reception that he caught reaching above his defender's helmet. Carter has always told quarterback Matt McGloin he is capable of such plays.
"I always ask him, 'throw it high and just give me a shot,'" said Carter, who is 6 feet 3.
Mark Dent: email@example.com, Twitter: @mdent05. First Published October 22, 2012 4:00 AM