Penn State Handles Purdue
Penn State defeated Purdue 45-21 on Military Appreciation Day at Beaver Stadium, to improve its home record to 5-1.
To help honor the numerous military personnel in attendance, wounded veteran, and State College High School graduate, Sgt. Adam Hartswick, participated in the pre-game coin toss.
“I could not get over how much that hit me,” said Penn State coach Bill O’Brien. “It was an honor to have that man on the sideline for us today. That was one of the best Beaver Stadium moments for me since I’ve been here.”
Upon receiving the opening kickoff, Penn State's offense drove 75 yards on 13 plays for a touchdown on the game’s first possession.
Junior running back Bill Belton was the workhorse for Penn State on the opening drive, carrying the ball eight times for 36 yards, while scoring on a five-yard touchdown run.
The Nittany Lions offense, which ranks tied for 109th in the country on third-down conversions, showed signs of improvement on the opening drive. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg completed a pair of third down passes to wide receiver Allen Robinson and tight end Jesse James, for 16 and six yards, respectively, that set up a fresh set of downs.
Penn State was a perfect 6-of-6 on third down conversions in the first half.
“We were really focused on executing our game and we felt really good about it,” said Hackenberg, who threw for 212 yards along with a touchdown and an interception.
After the Penn State defense forced a three-and-out on Purdue’s opening possession, the Nittany Lions running game led a 10-play, 66-yard touchdown drive as senior running back Zach Zwinak ran one in from five yards out, to put Penn State up 14-0 after the first quarter.
The touchdown was Zwinak’s 10th of the season, and the bruising back became the first Penn State player to run for 10 touchdowns in a single-season since teammates Daryll Clark and Evan Royster each matched the feat in 2008.
The Purdue offense orchestrated its best drive of the first half following the Zwinak touchdown, as the Boilermakers drove 75 yards on nine plays, ending with a touchdown pass from quarterback Danny Etling.
Purdue’s signal caller was a perfect 6-for-6 on the touchdown drive that was highlighted by a 38-yard screen pass to Cameron Posey and the two-yard touchdown strike, to junior TE Justin Sinz, cutting Penn State’s lead to seven.
Following the Purdue touchdown, Belton fumbled the ball on the ensuing possession, making it two straight games with a fumble for the junior ball carrier.
The fumble proved to be anything but costly however, as Penn State cornerback Jordan Lucas intercepted Etling’s second pass of the drive and returned it 22 yards to the Purdue 48 yard line.
The Penn State offense gained an additional 15 yards on Lucas’s third interception of the season, as Purdue offensive lineman Jordan Roos was flagged for a personal foul.
“Jordan Lucas has had a really good year and is just a tough guy who makes plays back there,” O’Brien said. “I can’t say enough about Jordan and he’s one of our great young players.”
After the interception and penalty combination set up the Penn State offense at the Purdue 33 yard line, Zwinak went the full 33 yards on five carries, to score his second touchdown of the game to put the Lions up 21-7.
The rushing duo of Zwinak and Belton combined for 152 yards and three touchdowns in the first half.
Penn State’s defense ratcheted up the pressure on the Purdue passing game on the ensuing possession, as cornerback Adrian Amos and defensive tackle DaQuan Jones recorded back-to-back sacks to force a Boilermaker punt.
Hackenberg was the facilitator on Penn State’s next and final drive of the opening half, completing all five of his passes and connecting with freshman TE Adam Breneman for an eight-yard touchdown pass, to push Penn State’s lead to 21.
The throw and catch between the freshmen was the first scoring connection between the two highly touted recruits.
“Looking back on [Adam’s] year, I think he’s had a really good year,” O’Brien said. “That catch he had for the touchdown was a great effort. I’m really glad we have him for three more years.”
Robinson also made his presence felt on the drive, hauling in an 18-yard pass for a first down in what was his record-breaking 78th catch of the season.
The junior wide receiver broke the previous record set by himself a season ago, while catching eight passes for 98 yards on the afternoon.
Penn State’s offense scored touchdowns on four of its five first half possessions while collecting 20 first downs and racking up 182 yards on the ground.
After only accumulating four first downs and 88 total yards in the first half, Purdue’s offense received a boost from the special teams, as junior running back Raheem Mostert returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a score.
The 100-yard touchdown return was the first one allowed by the Lions since 1994 as Purdue closed the halftime lead to 14 in favor of the home team.
Carrying the momentum over from the kickoff return, Purdue’s offense scored on the opening possession of the second half as Etling ran one in from 11 yards out, after the offense drove 84 yards on seven plays to make the score 28-21.
Unfortunately for the Boilermakers, that would be their final score of the game, as the Lions scored 17 unanswered points to claim the 45-21 victory.
Penn State’s ground game was instrumental in preserving the victory, as Zwinak rushed for his third touchdown of the game in the third quarter and Hackenberg added a four-yard touchdown run in the fourth.
Zwinak topped 100 yards rushing for the second consecutive game and finished with 26 carries for 149 yards and the three touchdowns, which tied the career-high he set earlier this season against UCF.
“As long as the team’s moving the ball it doesn’t matter but as a running back you obviously want to run the ball 95 percent of the time,” Zwinak said. “It was definitely nice for coach to call a run play that many times.”
Penn State hosts Nebraska in its final home game of the season next Saturday, while Purdue looks to win its first Big Ten Conference game when it takes on Illinois.
Aaron Carr is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Centre Daily Times, Abby Drey)