It wasn’t because of what Michael Zordich did earlier in his Penn State career, but Michael Mauti said he knew his teammate had what the skills to be an impactful ball carrier.
Zordich ran for a total of 30 yards on 15 carries last season. However, it was the fullback’s high school tape that gave Mauti a glimpse of what Zordich can do with the ball under his arm.
“That’s really the only film that he’s got, because he hasn’t gotten the opportunities to show what he can do,” Mauti said.
In Penn State’s win against Temple on Saturday, Zordich got some footage to use for his collegiate highlight reel as he and Zach Zwinak both had career days to lead the team to a season-high 173 rushing yards. Though he left the game in the third quarter with a bruised left knee, Zordich totaled 75 yards on 15 carries and tacked on another 39 receiving yards.
With injuries all over the place in the Nittany Lions’ backfield, the 6-foot-1, 236-pound senior has switched his main duties from creating running lanes to being the player who runs through them. Mauti thinks saying Zordich was underutilized in the past at Penn State would be an understatement.
“You hate to see a leader on our team not be in the game, because that’s what he is on the team. He means a lot of that offense,” Mauti said. “It’s hard to be a leader like that and then when the game comes around, to have to sit, especially when you’re healthy to have to sit there and watch. He’s a war dog, he wants to be in the game with the bullets flying.”
Zordich — who also had his longest career run (16 yards) and catch (27 yards) Saturday — didn’t return after suffering the injury, players and coaches didn’t make it sound like the ailment was anything too serious.
“He’ll probably spit on it and be all right,” coach Bill O’Brien said.
As noted earlier, Zordich is not the only running back who is banged up. Bill Belton, Derek Day and Curtis Dukes all suited up for Saturday’s contest, but none of them lined up in the backfield.
Belton missed his third straight game with an ankle injury, Day was sidelined for the second week in a row with a shoulder problem and Dukes, though he played on special teams, wasn’t used as a running back and was nursing a thigh issue.
So with Penn State’s top four options at running back out of commission, it was Zwinak getting all the carries as the team milked the clock in the fourth quarter. Like Zordich, Zwinak (6-foot-1, 232 pounds) is more of a fullback than a traditional running back, but he used his size to pick up 94 yards on the ground against Temple.
Zwinak compiled 57 of those yards on 11 carries in the final 15 minutes and the 94 yards are far and away a career high for the redshirt sophomore. After the game, Zwinak said he thought he played well, but gave a lot of credit to the players blocking in front of him.
“Anybody can run through some of those holes if they open up and as a running back it starts with them,” Zwinak told reporters of his offensive line.
Belton did send a tweet after the game alluding to his possible return for Penn State’s next game against Illinois, but O’Brien didn’t have any specifics about who would be available next week. He did, however, note he will continue using a variety of looks in the backfield.
“It will really be more of a running back by committee because these guys have run the football well,” O’Brien said. “So we’ll have a rotation there and hopefully one of them will get hot.”