UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Somebody asked coach Bill O'Brien about the status of running back Bill Belton after Saturday night's game. A week earlier he had played the best game of his college life, and now it was a fair question to wonder if he'd been hurt or had fallen out of the rotation.
He had not. It just seemed that way, not just for Belton, but for Penn State's entire rushing attack. The Nittany Lions gained a season-low 36 yards on the ground on 28 attempts. The number was particularly low because of four sacks that reduced the total by 38 yards.
"You have to give a lot of credit to Ohio State," O'Brien said. "They did a great job."
Ohio State did make several big plays on defense, but the Buckeyes came into the game with a rushing defense ranked fifth in the Big Ten. Though they had done well stopping offensively-challenged teams such as Michigan State, teams with good rushing offenses, such as California and Nebraska, had gained more than 200 yards against them.
It seemed Penn State had turned that corner in recent weeks, establishing a dependable running game. The Nittany Lions had 173, 161 and 215 yards in the previous three games. Each of those contests featured a 100-yard rusher.
The early offensive strategy of Penn State against Ohio State had not changed much from last week. Against Iowa, the Nittany Lions ran the ball 11 times in the first quarter and passed 12 times. The first quarter of the Ohio State game featured seven rushes and six passes.
The difference was that Penn State's seven rushes went for 20 yards Saturday night, not including negative yardage from a sack. Against Iowa, Penn State averaged just over 5 yards per rush in the first quarter.
Yet O'Brien continued to call conservative running plays. In the third quarter, Penn State went from the Ohio State 4 back to the 13 after a holding penalty and still tried a running play on second-and-goal from the 13, followed by a short pass.
"I can't quite speak for coach O'Brien or his play-calling, but we do what works any given Saturday," offensive guard John Urschel said. "And we've been running the ball extremely well the past weeks. This week it wasn't happening as much for us."
Urschel said he could not say why the running game struggled so much against Ohio State, stating his first impressions are usually always wrong and that he wanted to look at tape.
O'Brien, as he always does, put the onus for improvement on himself. He said he needed to design better schemes for his offensive line.
Purdue, this week's opponent, should at least make it easier. The Boilermakers allow an average of 194.5 rushing yards per game.
"These guys are in there right now and they're hurting and they're going to have to work really hard to improve between now and Purdue," O'Brien said.
NOTE -- Running back Richie Anderson has committed to Penn State, according to Rivals. Anderson, a 5-11, 180-pound three-star running back from Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick, Md., is the son of former Penn State running back Richie Anderson. His father played for the Nittany Lions in the early 90s and then played for the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys from 1993-04. Anderson was originally committed to Maryland. He is Penn State's 12th commitment for the class of 2012.psusports
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter @mdent05. First Published October 29, 2012 4:00 AM