Nittany Lions employ a trio of rushers


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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Running back Akeel Lynch didn't get in until the third quarter of a game Saturday against Kent State, but he was waiting on the bench with focus, aware his time to play could come at any time.

"You just have to keep in mind football is a spontaneous game," Lynch said. "Keep your mind keyed in and be ready."

As soon as he entered the game, he made an impact, running for 43 yards on his first carry and 8 yards on his next. Having a player capable of making big plays not enter the game until the second half isn't unusual. Such is the ideal strategy for Penn State's running game: Use three running backs and keep all of them fresh and energetic.

Lynch finished with 123 yards on 14 carries, Zach Zwinak 66 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries and Bill Belton 93 yards on 13 carries.

"I believe in using a lot of backs," Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said. "I know some teams want to use one back. We think that all three of these guys are good football players. We think all three deserve to play."

O'Brien said he generally likes to rotate running backs after two series. A lack of offensive production prevented him from using that system to get Lynch in earlier in the game.

As successful as the three have been in games against Kent State and Eastern Michigan, Penn State's rushing offense ranks just eighth in the Big Ten Conference in yards per game. The drop-off between the sixth-highest rushing total in the Big Ten and Penn State is nearly 50 yards.

Zwinak said he, Belton and Lynch constantly bounce ideas off each other about how to best handle certain defensive formations. He said Belton and Lynch mostly ask him about how to read blitzes and to best run between tackles.

Many times, Belton, Zwinak and Lynch have been asked if there's a competition between them, if they would like to be in an offense that is centered around one of them instead of rotating.

The reply is usually about the same. They enjoy their time together. They learn from each other. They cheer the others on when they're not in the game.

For now, Penn State will continue to run in threes.

"Every day you have to come out and work hard regardless of who's behind you or who's playing," Zwinak said. "Definitely everybody is striving to push each other."

psusports - sportscollegedistrict

Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05. First Published September 23, 2013 4:00 AM


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