- Josh Moyer, ESPN Staff Writer
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien avoided taking a direct shot at Purdue coach Darrell Hazell, but it was pretty clear he was aware of the head coach's words earlier in the week.
Hazell took the dais Tuesday and, while addressing opposing offensive lines, said: "Now is Penn State as good up front as Iowa and Wisconsin? They're good. I don't think they're as good as those two teams."
He might have been right, but a motivated Penn State had the last word Saturday. The Lions limited the Boilermakers to just a single rushing yard in the first half while finishing with 289 rushing yards themselves.
O'Brien seemed to reference that statement after his team's 45-21 victory.
"We felt like we could run the ball; I'm not sure that they thought we could run the ball on them," O'Brien said. "I think they thought Wisconsin and Iowa were better than us, and that's for you guys to judge. But we rushed the ball for 290 yards today, so I'd say that's pretty good."
Hazell's words seemed a little out of place for the Boilermakers, who haven't had much to boast about lately. And O'Brien -- who offered the obligatory "Purdue's a good team" on Thursday -- didn't seem too pleased about the quote.
While O’Brien offered just one quick sound bite before addressing other issues and didn't return to Hazell's statement, he really didn't need to. His team had plenty to say on the field by running a season-high 58 times. Zach Zwinak handled a bulk of the load -- 26 carries, 149 yards -- and Bill Belton added 81 yards on 19 carries.
"Just moving the ball helps the team," said Zwinak, who found the end zone three times. "It gets everybody going and everybody excited and gets the fans into it."
It's not quite fair to say that Penn State's offensive line or running game took a gigantic step forward with this performance, though. It was the sixth time this season that Purdue allowed more than 200 rushing yards, and the Boilermakers entered the game with the nation's No. 111 run defense. The Boilermakers defense has been nothing short of terrible this season, so offensive production against them doesn't necessarily translate into PSU improvement.
On the flip side, Purdue quarterback Danny Etling finished with the best start of his career by going 21-of-33 for 223 yards -- but, once again, it came against a PSU secondary that has struggled mightily this season.
That didn't seem to matter much to the second-largest crowd of the season -- an official attendance of 96,491 -- or for many who lingered during an unseasonably warm afternoon to sing Penn State's alma mater after the victory. It was a convincing win, one that caused PSU players to once again ring the victory bell.
The Nittany Lions need at least seven wins this season to meet most fans' expectations, so in that respect this was another step in that direction. PSU had no trouble moving the ball downfield, and the win provided a confidence-boost heading into the final home game of the year against Nebraska.
"However it looks, I wasn't really paying too much attention," quarterback Christian Hackenberg said, when asked whether PSU's strides might be overstated after this win. "I think we were just focused on getting better and executing."