Penn State running backs replace Belton by committee

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - By Monday, Penn State wide receiver Alex Kenney and his teammates knew they would be shorthanded in their game against Virginia.

They knew sophomore running back Bill Belton was hurting. 

"He was kind of limping around," Kenney said. "[The coaches] decided he was going to sit out."

Belton was Penn State's No. 1 running back to open the season. He carried the ball 13 times for 53 yards before leaving the Ohio game with an ankle injury. So the sophomore stayed in State College as his teammates flew to Charlottesville.

And though former walk-on Derek Day was named the starter, they knew they would need to replace Belton by committee.

Day, redshirt junior Curtis Dukes, senior Mike Zordich and junior Zach Zwinak combined for 84 yards on 33 carries in Penn State's 17-16 loss to Virginia. None rushed for a touchdown. 

"They did a good job to pick up the slack," guard John Urschel said.

Added Kenney: "They're all great running backs and they'll all see more carries as the season goes on."

It's unclear of that will be the case again next weekend as Penn State looks to avoid an 0-3 start when it takes on Navy at Beaver Stadium. Coach Bill O'Brien did not have an update on Belton's health and said he stayed in State College to continue treatment.

For now, Penn State must look at the positives. Day, a fifth-year senior making his first career start, tallied a career high 18 carries and 47 yards. He also posted a career long reception of 17 yards in the first quarter.

Meanwhile Dukes, the 245-pound New York native who sat out this spring to focus on academics, logged a career-high 10 carries for an average of three yards per carry. Dukes did not appear in the Ohio game. 

"He's been working hard on a daily basis trying to improve, trying to focus on finishing runs, running over people," Urschel said. "He's a big back. He can really help us."

-Emily Kaplan