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Zwinak latest tailback hero for Lions


February 17. 2013 2:43AM


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STATE COLLEGE -- They talked about balancing the offense.


But nobody expected the Penn State Nittany Lions would be forced into a balancing act at running back.


An injury-riddled running game appeared to be knocked completely off-balance when fullback-turned-tailback Michael Zordich left Saturday's game in early in the second half, apparently after suffering a blow to his left knee.


But in stepped fellow fullback Zach Zwinak, who gained 94 yards on 18 carries -- most of them from the tailback position vacated by Zordich.


"I was excited," said Zwinak, who recorded his first carries of the season during Saturday's 24-13 victory over Temple. "I'm just fortunate I got my shot."


Penn State fans had to be saying, "Shoot!"


Already short at the tailback position because of injuries to Bill Belton and Curtis Dukes, Penn State tried moving fifth-year senior Zordich from his regular fullback spot to tailback last week.


It worked during a victory over Navy, as Zordich held his own as Penn State's main ballcarrier with a 50-yard rushing day during Penn State's runaway victory over the Midshipmen. And it was working again against Temple, as Zordich rolled up 75 yards on 15 carries.


But suddenly, he was rolling around in pain on a trainer's table on Penn State's sideline during the second half.


"He's a tough kid," said Penn State coach Bill O'Brien, who didn't get a chance to discuss the injury with trainers prior to his postgame address. "I would say he'd probably spit on it and it'd be all right."'


But in Zordich's absence, the Nittany Lions didn't quite spit out their running plans.


Instead, they simply switched Zwinak from fullback to running back and kept feeding him the ball.


Hey, it worked once, right?


"I don't know what I view myself as," Zwinak chuckled.


Temple's defense seemed even more confused.


Because Zwinak, a redshirt sophomore who came to Penn State as the No. 2 running back recruit in the nation out of Lingamore High School in Maryland, averaged 5.2 yards per carry.


He was even supposed to score a touchdown.


But a mixup in the backfield near the end of the first half left quarterback Matt McGloin little choice but to keep the ball himself for a 1-yard touchdown dive that boosted Penn State's lead to 14-3.


McGloin joked afterward that he "stole" a touchdown from his latest fullback-to-tailback conversion.


"Ahh, he had a great day, he deserved it," Zwinak said of his quarterback. "If I were to say I was upset, I would be selfish. No. This is a team game. As long as we put touchdowns on the board, that's all that matters -- no matter who scores."


Maybe one of these days, Zwinak will.


After all, nobody suspected Zordich was capable of this type of success as a ballcarrier -- although Zordich constantly reminded O'Brien lately he was once a capable ballcarrier at Cardinal Mooney High School in Ohio.


"It was a good time," said Zordich, who was averaging 5 yards per carry at the time of his injury Saturday. "The offensive line was getting off the ball. It just felt good to be out there playing."


The guy who had to replace him in the backfield took notice.


"When he goes, I'm going to miss him," Zwinak said. "I look up to Mike. The kid could play tailback. He's a good runner."


Combined, they finished with 169 yards on 33 carries, with five catches for 51 yards. And while Zordich ripped off a 16-yard run in the first half for the longest jaunt in Penn State's season so far, Zwinak nearly matched him with a 15-yard burst in the second half. And both combined the typical power of a fullback with some surprising speed.


"You run over somebody, you feel good," Zwinak said. "If you run past somebody, you're like, 'I can move, too.' Just to get your hands on the ball, that's all you can ask for. Getting carries is great. (But) this is a team.


"I just want to do whatever role they want me to play."




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