IOWA CITY, Iowa — It was a subtle gesture by Bill Belton — a quick index finger to his facemask to shush the rowdy Iowa crowd after he scored his first rushing touchdown of the season.
It worked on the fans, but it didn’t work on Bill O’Brien after an official flagged Belton for unsportsmanlike conduct. Belton said his coach gave him “an earful.”
“I kind of got too carried away with it,” Belton added. “That’s something I’ll never do again.”
But for most of the game, it was Belton who carried the football away from Iowa’s defense. Penn State thrashed the Hawkeyes, 38-14, Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. Belton rushed for 103 yards and three touchdowns.
Before Iowa, Belton had spent the season recovering from an ankle injury he sustained in Penn State’s first game against Ohio. He started against Illinois and Northwestern, but tailback Zach Zwinak outran him in both contests.
After experiments with Derek Day and Michael Zordich at tailback, it was Zwinak who put up the most impressive numbers against the Fighting Illini and the Wildcats with his physical, downhill assaults.
“They knew what they were doing,” Belton said of the coaches’ decision to utilize Zwinak. “They went with the guy that was hot and that was Zach.”
The bye week couldn’t have come sooner for Belton, who spent the time off nursing his ankle back to health. Belton gains his yards through shifty, quick running — a style that requires him to change directions at high speeds.
But his patience paid off when assistant coach Charles London said Thursday that Belton would be good to go. He and Zwinak equally split 32 carries Saturday, and Zwinak tacked on 52 rushing yards of his own.
O’Brien said that he saw “a little more juice” from Belton during the bye week. Many of the players said they had some of their best practices the Monday and Tuesday before Iowa.
Belton added he doesn’t mind the running back committee system that appears to be O’Brien’s plan for the moment. He said winning is a group effort, and he can’t do it by himself.
“You just got to prepare each week to be ready to go,” Belton said. “We all do different things. Zach is a power runner. Zordich is a power runner. We got different backs. All of us can easily go for 100 yards or have big games like this any day.”
Belton said it was his inactivity that bothered him, not his teammates’ success. As Zwinak, and even Zordich had some strong showings, Belton mostly stood idle on the sidelines. His doubters became more vocal, especially on Twitter.
“I had a lot of people saying a lot of things to me and it kind of built up after a while,” Belton said. “I just wanted to get back and be healthy again.”
Twelve days before the Iowa game, Belton tweeted: “I’m going to make all you doubters look stupid. Watch!”
The sophomore said their negativity didn’t frustrate him, though. In fact, he fed off it.
“That’s just how I took it and I ran with it,” Belton said.
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