STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State will gain some depth on the heels of the announcement that the NCAA has eased its sanctions and gradually will allow the Lions to add more scholarship players.
Akeel Lynch (St. Francis) already has shown coach Bill O’Brien that augmenting the running back position won’t have to be the top priority.
Lynch ran for a career-high 123 yards against Kent State and is among three underclassmen who have been sharing handoffs from freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
Juniors Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton, along with Lynch, a redshirt freshman, have gained 813 yards in four games, which includes just 57 net yards against Syracuse in the opener. Zwinak leads with 297 yards on 67 carries, Lynch has 263 on 32, and Belton 253 on 33.
Penn State has scored on each of its 15 attempts from inside the 20 this season, and of its last 50 red-zone attempts dating to the middle of the Lions’ 8-4 season in 2012, the Lions have scored 46 times. That includes 21 rushing touchdowns. Ten of this year’s 12 red-zone scores have been running plays.
Those numbers are enough to keep everyone comfortably grounded – Lynch, in particular – as Penn State (3-1) prepares for its Big Ten opener at Indiana (2-2) on Oct. 5.
“We have a lot of guys that go in – me, Zach and Bill – so we have three guys who can rotate,” Lynch said Wednesday. “As of right now our team is pretty good in depth. We have three guys capable of handling the load.”
And according to O’Brien, it’s all according to plan.
“I believe in using a lot of backs, I really do,” O’Brien said after Saturday’s 34-0 victory over Kent State. “I know some teams want to use one back. Sometimes we do, we try to go with the hot back.”
When he’s not in the lineup, the 6-foot, 211-pound Lynch watches the power moves of Zwinak and the cutting ability of Belton in order to improve his game that features a bit of both.
“Obviously, there’s lots I can improve on myself, and if I improve I can help the team get better overall,” Lynch said.