STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Running back Bill Belton generated 105 all-purpose yards and Zach Zwinak rushed for three short touchdowns Saturday afternoon, as Penn State slogged past Kent State, 34-0, in rainy Beaver Stadium.
The Nittany Lions improved to 3-1 by winning their final non-conference game. The Golden Flashes fell to 1-3 with their third straight loss.
It's the first time Penn State has shut out an opponent since it defeated, of all teams, Kent State, 24-0, in 2010.
Belton, who rushed 13 times for 90 yards, opened the scoring by gathering a 15-yard TD pass from Christian Hackenberg in the closing seconds of the first quarter. That capped a nine-play, 87-yard march that included 33 yards from Belton.
Belton then ran for 42 yards on a 10-play, 82-yard drive in the second quarter that culminated in Zwinak’s first TD on a two-yard plunge.
But the Lions came up empty on their next five possessions, not scoring until Zwinak powered in from the 1 with 4:53 left in the third quarter. Again Belton did the heavy lifting on a nine-play, 51-yard drive, rushing four times for 25 yards.
Zwinak rushed for 65 yards on 15 carries. He has eight TDs on the ground in four games this season.
The third tailback, redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch, served as closer, running for 117 of his 123 yards in the final 16:38.
Quarterback Christian Hackenberg performed unevenly, hitting on 10 of his first 15 passes but only three of his last 20 to finish 13-for-35 for 176 yards and the TD to Belton. Hackenberg was intercepted once.
Bill O’Brien’s playcalling left something to be desired at times, as he had Hackenberg slinging it when running seemed the better option against an overmatched opponent. A perfect example came when Zwinak started the second half by running three times for 34 yards. The Lions then put it up on their next four plays, and nine of their next 10, resulting in a punt, a Hackenberg interception and another pick.
How very Andy Reid-like
The final ratio was 53 runs and 36 passes, though it was 36-32 through three quarters. In the rain, no less.
Middle linebacker Glenn Carson spearheaded an aggressive effort, and the Lions definitely tackled better than they had in last week’s 34-31 loss to Central Florida. But Kent State certainly did not have the sort of offense capable of mounting much of a challenge.
A red flag for PSU was the manner in which the Flashes (like UCF) went after cornerback Trevor Williams, a converted wide receiver. It did not prove costly, but it is a potential Achilles' heel.
Sam Ficken nailed a 25-yard field goal in the third quarter and a career-long 54-yarder late in the game. He has made 17 of his last 18 attempts dating back to last season, with his lone failure a 57-yarder late in the first half against Central Florida.
The Nittany Lions were repeatedly pinned deep by Kent State punter Anthony Melchiori, who averaged 46.5 yards on 10 kicks. PSU punter Alex Butterworth, by contrast, averaged 39 on four punts.
Melchiori did miss a 31-yard field goal attempt on Kent State’s first possession of the afternoon.
Linebacker Mike Hull (knee) did not dress. Safety Ryan Keiser, who suffered an apparent head injury two games ago, was more heavily involved in the secondary rotation and came up with his first career interception in the third quarter.
The announced attendance in the 107,282-seat stadium was 92,371.
The Lions have a bye next week, then open Big Ten play Oct. 5 at Indiana.