Penn State 48, UMass 7: Nittany Lions find balance
State College, Pa. — Penn State coach James Franklin finally found the balance he's been looking for with the Nittany Lions offense.
Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak rushed for a pair of touchdowns each, Christian Hackenberg threw for 179 yards and Penn State defeated Massachusetts 48-7 on Saturday.
Penn State (4-0), which needed late-game drives to win two of its first three games, displayed a run-pass balance for the first time this season during its first-ever game against UMass (0-4).
"I think it's great that we were able to establish a running game with multiple backs and multiple people," Franklin said. "We were able to be balanced and take some pressure off of Hack, which is good."
Akeel Lynch led Penn State with 81 yards on eight carries while Belton's 76 yards came on seven rushes and the Nittany Lions rushed for 228 yards on 45 attempts.
"I think we still have a long ways to go," Franklin said. "You keep working at things, keep a positive attitude, keep persevering and good things will happen.
The Penn State defense, which has allowed just 198 rushing yards through four games, limited UMass to three yards rushing — the least it has yielded since 2007 when it held Notre Dame to a net of zero.
"Coach (defensive coordinator Bob) Shoop talks all the time about playing championship defense," said Austin Johnson, who had two tackles, one for a loss. "Part of playing championship defense is stopping the run. I think we did that today."
UMass quarterback Blake Frohnapfel was 17 of 33 for 263 yards and a fourth-quarter, 77-yard touchdown pass to Tajae Sharpe.
"That fact that we're able to make people one-dimensional I think is huge on defense," Franklin said.
That wasn't lost on UMass coach Mark Whipple.
"This was our worst day," Whipple said. "I don't know what happened. We played scared, frightened from the first half. We couldn't have beaten their JVs today."
"We knew we couldn't run the ball but we thought we could do something," Whipple said.
Penn State did nothing on its opening possession but kicked two field goals and scored six touchdowns on its next eight. It was the most points Penn State scored since a 52-3 win over Eastern Illinois on Oct. 10, 2009.
The 4-0 start for the Lions is the first since the 2008 team ran off nine straight wins. Franklin became the first Penn State coach to start 4-0 in his first season since Dick Harlow in 1915.
Things didn't start easily for Hackenberg and the Lions. The sophomore completed just three of 10 passes before heating up to go 8 of 12 during the Lions six touchdown drives.
"I think it was a great opportunity for us to go out and execute our game plan and execute it the way we wanted to; to execute what we wanted to do offensively and defensively and be able to go out and do it well," Hackenberg said. "I think we did that."
Penn State scored more points (34) in the first half than it did in any of its previous three games and scored 28 points in the second quarter — the most since November 2009 against Michigan State.
Belton enabled Penn State to establish control halfway through the second quarter when he took a quick pitch from Hackenberg, swept left and cut back for a 24-yard touchdown run. He added a 20-yard score on a direct snap to make it 20-0.
"The first couple games you could tell that all of us were frustrated with the run game," Belton said. "That's the way it goes when you have guys who are inexperienced like that. But they're coming together really nice."