Penn State finds success in running game; dominates UMass at home

Story posted September 21, 2014 in CommRadio, Sports by Tyler Zulli

UMass won the opening coin toss and elected to defer until the second half. That was about the only battle with Penn State they would win. The Minutemen (0-4) were absolutely dominated from the second quarter on by the Nittany Lions (4-0, 1-0 B1G) losing by a score of 48-7 at Beaver Stadium.

After a lackluster first quarter that saw little more than two Sam Ficken field goals to give Penn State a 6-0 lead, the Nittany Lions exploded offensively, scoring 28 points in the second quarter alone. The Nittany Lions scored 14 additional points in the second half, adding to their already lofty lead.

The offensive outburst was led by, surprisingly enough, the rushing attack. Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak each punched in two touchdowns, and Akeel Lynch scored one of his own, picking up the longest carry of his collegiate career on a 46-yard scamper. The rushing trio combined for a total of 186 yards on the ground on 24 carries.

Head Coach James Franklin was excited about the way his running backs played today. 

“We have three backs we feel really good about, and we’ll have to rotate them to keep them fresh all year long,” said Franklin.

The running game had struggled through the first three games of the season, picking up just 190 yards on the ground. The offensive line has fallen under a lot of scrutiny for these struggles, but Akeel Lynch realizes it’s a team effort to get better. 

“When the concerns came out, we put it on our shoulders, we didn’t point fingers. This game was just a stepping stone,” Lynch said.

Under center, quarterback Christian Hackenberg wasn’t necessarily sharp in this outing, making some errant passes. Before being removed for backup D.J. Crook midway through the 3rd quarter, Hackenberg completed just 50 percent of his passes, going 11 for 22 on the day, and throwing for just 166 yards. In a game that saw the running game effective on most of its touches, Hackenberg’s subpar day will be seen as nothing more than an afterthought.

Penn State basically shut it down, and went into cruise control, as many of the backups checked into the game for Penn State midway through the third quarter and into the fourth. Crook threw the first touchdown pass of his collegiate career in the second half.

Seldom used fourth running back Cole Chiappialle saw most of the carries in the fourth quarter. Junior tight end Brent Wilkerson also saw the field, and made the most of his opportunity, finding the back of the endzone for his first career touchdown catch.

Franklin was thrilled with his team’s ability to step on the gas early, take a commanding lead and get some of the younger players into the game.

“We were able to play a bunch of guys today, we were able to get a bunch of guys experience,” he said. “Basically, those guys got to play all of the third quarter and all of the fourth quarter, which was huge.”

The Minutemen offense was stymied for most of the day by the Penn State defense. The Nittany Lion front seven wreaked havoc on the UMass offensive line, sacking quarterback Blake Frohnapfel three times. As a team, UMass mustered just 111 total yards of offense in the first half. Penn State’s defense also forced two fumbles, including one in which they recovered. The biggest takeaway defensively for Penn State was the mere three rushing yards they allowed in the game. UMass averaged 0.1 yards per carry.

UMass went into “air it out” mode as the game continued to swing in Penn State’s favor, throwing the ball well over 30 times on the day. They did receive a burst of life early in the fourth quarter when Frohnapfel connected with receiver Tajae Sharpe on a quick toss that turned into a 77 yard run.

UMass head coach Mark Whipple was thoroughly disappointed in the way his team played today. In fact, he thought it was the worst they’ve looked all year.

“We played scared and frightened from the first snap. We have to go back to work. We couldn't have beaten their JV's today,” Whipple said.

It was an all around dominating performance for the Nittany Lions, who improve to 4-0 for the first time since the 2009 season. James Franklin said they’ll enjoy today’s win and get back at it tomorrow to prepare for next week.

Penn State will be home once again next week, as the bulk of their conference play begins and the Nittany Lions take on the Northwestern Wildcats for Homecoming weekend. Kickoff is set for noon and can be heard live on ComRadio. 

(Photo credit: AP Photo/, Joe Hermitt)

Tyler Zulli is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email