Penn State tackle promises an improved running game

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Penn State Nittany Lions Zach Zwinak (28) scrambles during the first half of the game against the Central Florida Knights at Croke Park. (Steve Flynn/USA Today)

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Being the veteran on the Penn State offensive line, Donovan Smith doesn't mind reaching out to his younger and less experienced teammates to make sure they know exactly what is expected of them.

"Just motivating them and telling them to ask me any questions in terms of game experiences or what I know here or there," the 6-foot-5, 348-pound tackle said earlier this week. "With my knowledge and my experience of playing, I'll provide that information to them if they ask me, or anyone who comes and talks to me."

The mentoring by Smith, a redshirt junior, is sure to come in handy as the Nittany Lions adapt to their new offense under coach James Franklin, a process that continues Saturday against Akron in their home opener - and Franklin's first game at Beaver Stadium.

The offensive line saw three players - a converted defensive tackle and two redshirt freshmen - make their first career starts last week against Central Florida and the reviews were generally good. The line did a decent job of protecting Christian Hackenberg, who passed for a school-record 454 yards in the 26-24 victory.

However, the Penn State running game went nowhere, picking up just 57 yards, and Franklin said this week he would emphasize moving the ball better on the ground.

For his part, Smith felt the line did "a tremendous job."

"We had our little bumps here and there for the first game," he said. "We can iron out the wrinkles and we can only get better. We had some little jitters for the first-time starters. But I told them after the game I was pleased with their performance and we can only keep going up from here."

The Nittany Lions will let loose three talented running backs on the Zips (1-0), who opened their season Aug. 28 with a 41-0 win over Howard. Bill Belton, a former star at Winslow Township High in South Jersey, led the team in rushing last season and Zach Zwinak paced the ground attack the year before. Akeel Lynch has shown potential.

However, those three backs combined for just 23 carries last week. Smith feels improvement is coming.

"I have tremendous confidence in the O-line and what we'll do for the running backs to get them going," he said. "Our motto is, 'We're going to run the ball when we have to and we're going to run the ball when we want to.' "

Defensively, the Lions held UCF to 246 yards last week behind excellent performances from linebacker Mike Hull and tackle Anthony Zettel. The Zips gained 513 yards of total offense against Howard; quarterback Kyle Pohl passed for 308 yards and four touchdowns.

 


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