Zach Zwinak broke away from the Nebraska secondary and charged 50 yards into the endzone to give his team a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on Saturday.
It was the longest scoring scamper of his Penn State career and the offense’s longest play from scrimmage this season.
The good vibes didn’t last long, though.
On the Nittany Lions’ next offensive drive, facing a first-and-10 from the Cornhuskers’ 13-yard line, Zwinak lost a fumble to Nebraska linebacker Will Compton.
The turnover killed a promising drive and cost Penn State points it would sorely need later on as it fell, 32-23, on the road.
Zwinak gained a career-high 141 rushing yards in the contest, but he was left lamenting his mistake after the game.
“I just know that it was unacceptable that I lost it,” Zwinak said.
The sophomore from Frederick, Md. has now lost three fumbles in his last four games.
His turnover, along with the controversial fumble call on an apparent touchdown by tight end Matt Lehman in the fourth quarter, contributed to Penn State losing the turnover battle for just the third time this season.
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien was quick to defend both players after the game, though, and was already trying to shift the focus to the Indiana game at home this weekend.
“Zach’s twisting, trying to gain extra yardage. I think he gained eight yards on the play,” O’Brien said. “…This is a good group of kids. We’ve gotten to this point in the season playing hard and we’ve just got to correct it, got to coach it better and got to play better next Saturday.”
Despite his sin, Zwinak continued to establish himself as the team’s primary option at running back against Nebraska.
He carried 21 times Saturday while pre-season starter Bill Belton was limited to one carry.
It was the third-straight game that Zwinak led Penn State in rushing yardage after starting the season behind Belton, Derek Day and sharing the No. 3 role with Curtis Dukes and Akeel Lynch on the team’s depth chart.
That rise, and the touchdown run on which he showed uncharacteristic break-away speed especially, has even Zwinak surprising himself.
“I never know what I’ve got in me sometimes,” Zwinak said. “I saw some guys close to me, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it, but I made it, so I was happy about that.”
Now, Zwinak will try to keep the momentum going while limiting the mistakes moving forward, because as quarterback Matt McGloin stressed, turnovers played a big part in the loss at Nebraska.
“When you turn the ball over three times, you can’t win against a team like this,” McGloin said. “They’re going to find a way to win.”