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Running game spurs Penn State blowout of UMass

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Penn State found a balanced offensive attack for the first time this season to blow out UMass 47-8 at Beaver Stadium and improve to 4-0 on the young season.

In the first three games of Penn State’s season, the Nittany Lions offense has sputtered at times.

After the first quarter of the Lions’ contest against Massachusetts, all signs pointed to another frustrating day on the ground and an inconsistent game in the air, as the team managed just two field goals in the first 15 minutes.

When the second quarter got underway, though, the Lions’ (4-0) offense started rolling and didn’t stop in a 48-7 rout of UMass (0-4) on Saturday evening at Beaver Stadium.

With a 24-yard touchdown rush cutting in and out of tackles, Bill Belton got a monster Lions running game going with 10:11 in the second quarter to put the team up 13-0 at the time.

What would follow amounted to three running backs crossing the plane — two multiple times — for five touchdowns on 228 yards.

Akeel Lynch was the leading rusher with eight carries for 81 yards and a touchdown that came on a wildcat handoff from Belton, who had 76 yards on seven carries and two touchdowns of his own.

The highlight of Lynch’s day was a 46-yard run down the sideline in the first quarter to set up the Lions’ second field goal.

“When I see [a hole], I just hit it,” Lynch said. “Sometimes you have to take the [two] yards. Sometimes you have to take the 80. That’s how it goes as a running back.”

Zach Zwinak also chipped in two short-yardage touchdowns on nine carries for 28 yards.

The Lions have struggled to get the running game going early in the season and to have a breakthrough on Saturday was something Belton said was a long time in the making.

“You know when you keep working and working, the success is going to come,” Belton said. “So just continuing to go out there and work each day on it and offense and [we] came out and showed what we’ve been working on all week.”

A good rushing attack is only as good as its’ offensive line, which provided the running backs with a ton of holes thanks to better coordination and communication according to Franklin.

“I think we still have a long way to go, but I thought we had a really good plan this week in how we were practicing those things,” Franklin said. “[In] our walkthroughs this week, we were really trying to emphasize that.”

With the ground game up and running, the rest of the offense clicked as well and quarterback Christian Hackenberg overcame a 4-for-11 first quarter passing.

The sophomore ended up completing 12 of 23 passes for 179 yards, hooking up with leading-receiver Geno Lewis five times for 82 yards including a fantastic 38-yard pitch and catch down the sideline in the second quarter.

DaeSean Hamilton also had four grabs for 65 yards, while Jesse James caught two balls for 26 yards.

With the game well in hand early in the third quarter, Franklin also got backup receivers Chris Godwin, Saeed Blacknall and tight end Brent Wilkerson some playing time as well as quarterback D.J. Crook.

Crook was 6-of-9 for 57 yards and had a touchdown toss to Wilkerson.

“We were able to get a lot of guys experience,” Franklin said. “Our plan after the first series of the second half was we would start to substitute so basically, those guys got to play the whole third quarter and all of the fourth quarter, which was huge.”

On the other side of the ball, for the fourth-straight game, the defense was dominating, carrying a shutout into the fourth quarter.

The Lions had three sacks on the evening along with a forced fumble from Mike Hull which was then recovered by defensive tackle Austin Johnson.

Linebacker Brandon Bell recorded the first sack of his career in the contest just a week after his recording first career interception at Rutgers.

The unit held the Minutemen to just three rushing yards and while quarterback Blake Frohnapfel threw for 263 yards, he only managed one touchdown pass to Marken Michel.

“We love to stop a team from running,” Johnson said. “Then they have to change and go passing and that’s when, as coach [Sean Spencer] says, we’re going to let the dogs loose.”

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