STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Penn State tailback Bill Belton believes the Nittany Lions will achieve a balanced offensive.
The current numbers – 1,082 yards passing to just 227 rushing – are a bit skewed, and the young Penn State offensive line has been criticized despite winning its first three games.
With just one returning starter up front, the running game has been grounded and quarterback Christian Hackenberg has faced considerable pressure in passing situations.
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On Saturday, the Nittany Lions will play Massachusetts and a defense that’s yielded nearly 220 rushing yards per game. Belton, who rushed for 803 yards last season but has just 88 yards on 34 carries this year, remains confident.
”We’re going to get it right,” he said. ”The line is getting better each day, working each day. By the time this thing’s over, we’re going to be back on track in the running game.”
The Nittany Lions have gone airborne, with Hackenberg going 79 of 127 for 1,082 yards. He’s throwing deep to Geno Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton, across the middle to tight ends and quick dump-offs to running backs. Belton has caught nine passes for 114 yards and one score.
”We have a good quarterback in Hack, and having that short passing game is an extension of the running game,” Belton said. ”When we do that we’re moving the ball, and if need to move the ball we’ll do that.”
The senior running back is playing for his third coaching staff in his five years at Penn State. He’s taken direct snaps in the Wildcat offense, and he’s worked closely with running backs coach Charles Huff on improving his pass-blocking skills.
”Of course, whatever the coaches ask me to do, we’re fine with that as a running back group,” Belton said. ”Coach Huff tells us to be the best player for the offense. Which means, whatever we’re asked to do, to be best at what we’re doing – whether it’s blocking, receiving out of the backfield or even running the ball.”
Running with more consistency is what Belton and running mates Zach Zwinak and Akeel Lynch have in mind.
”We’re just continuing to work out the kinks,” Belton said. ”It’s going to take a little bit to get that chemistry down and get comfortable with playing with each other. I think that we’re very, very close to getting the running game going.
”I don’t think we’re that far at all. The breakout game, it’ll come. It’ll come as long as we stay patient with the running game.”
Boston College, Colorado and Vanderbilt have combined for 654 rushing yards in victories over UMass this season.
”They run a bunch of funky looks up front and that confuses a lot of people,” Belton said. ”We’ll just stick to our roles and we’ll be in good shape, but they are a very confusing defense.”