Penn State Nittany Lions: Michael Zordich

PSU position preview: Running backs

August, 22, 2013
As part of an ongoing series, NittanyNation will preview a different position leading up to the season opener against Syracuse on Aug. 31. Up today: Running backs.

Projected starter: Zach Zwinak (2012 stats: 1,000 rushing yards, six touchdowns, 4.9 yard average; 20 catches, 177 yards, one TD)

Key losses: Michael Zordich (301 yards, 3.8 yard average, four touchdowns; 15 catches, 162 yards)

Next in line: Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch will split carries, although there's really no clear No. 2 right now. Belton was listed as the backup on the post-spring practice depth chart, but there's no telling who'll finish with more carries by the end of the season.

Pat Zerbe is the starting fullback right now, but he's not expected to see all that much time as a ball-carrier. Redshirt sophomore Deron Thompson, who isn't on scholarship, impressed in the Blue-White Game and will likely step up if there are any injuries.

What to expect: This group isn't as deep as last season, but it should still definitely be improved. Big things are expected out of Lynch, the redshirt freshman, and he could be the big-play threat PSU needs out the backfield.

There's definitely a nice balance here. Zwinak is the straightforward, wear-the-defense-down runner. Lynch is the young speedster who can run in the 4.4s. And Belton is more balanced and should be a threat in the passing game since he played wideout as a freshman.

It took the Nittany Lions a few games last season to find an identity at tailback. Zwinak is the workhorse, while the other two can offer him a breather and the offense a bit of a different look. All three will be utilized this year, and all three will return again in 2014. This group is only going to get better, and this season should set a strong tone.

Recruiting trail: If depth is a problem now, it certainly won't be that way in 2014. PSU already garnered two RB commits here in three-star tailback Nick Scott (Fairfax, Va./Fairfax) and three-star prospect Mark Allen (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha).

Allen is coming off a torn ACL and likely won't make an early impact at Penn State. Perhaps, as a result, the Nittany Lions might not be done at tailback this recruiting season. Another tailback -- Qadree Ollison out of Buffalo (N.Y.) Canisius -- is a prospect with a unique blend of size and speed. The 6-foot-1, 228-pound back who runs a reported 4.5 is from the same high school league as Lynch, and some coaches there think Ollison might even be better.

PSU entered the race late for Ollison, but the Lions remain near the top of his list. Ollison should decide in early September, and Wisconsin is likely the biggest competition right now.

Best-case scenario: Zwinak carries this offense while the rookie quarterback gets adjusted and averages around six yards a carry. He earns at least an honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team, while Lynch breaks some big, key runs and Belton contributes in a lot of different areas.

Worst-case scenario: Zwinak starts off the season a bit slow after a spring wrist injury that forced him to wear a red shirt the first few weeks of the preseason. He does fine after the first few games, but that throws off the offense. The other two backs fare OK but don't break out like some fans hoped.

Top position question: How many carries can Lynch and Belton expect to see? It's the answer everyone wants to know, but there's no easy way to know. Head coach Bill O'Brien could go a lot of different ways, but we can look back to last season and try to project it that way.

In the last seven games, once Zwinak became the clear No. 1, the tailback took about 62 percent of the running backs' carries. If the offense remains balanced and everything remains equal, that means there would be about 13-15 carries a game for those two to split.

There's lot of variables at this point. But, right now, that's our best guess. And if someone's on a roll -- like Zwinak against Wisconsin -- all bets are off.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Three seniors will accompany Bill O'Brien to the Big Ten media days on Wednesday and Thursday in Chicago: offensive guard John Urschel, linebacker Glenn Carson and safety Malcolm Willis.

There's plenty of news surrounding these Nittany Lions, so here are five storylines to keep in mind during the two-day event:

1. Asking the NCAA to reduce the sanctions: O'Brien opened this door a little bit Friday, saying he hoped the NCAA would meet him "halfway." And questions will undoubtedly be thrown his way about those statements. Will PSU make a presentation to the NCAA? Will it just hope, wait and keep its fingers crossed?

Reducing the sanctions would have a monumental effect on the program and the university, so it would be no surprise if that turned into one of the main focuses at the B1G media days. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith recently said in an interview that he believed the penalties were "overly harsh."

2. Quarterback "controversy": It's not just Tyler Ferguson vs. Christian Hackenberg that creates an interesting dynamic here. Ferguson hadn't returned to campus as of last Friday and is currently missing summer workouts. Granted, they're voluntary -- but players in the midst of position battles usually don't miss them. O'Brien tried to downplay Ferguson's absence on Friday, saying the media "made a mountain out of a mole hill."

[+] EnlargeJohn Urschel
Randy Litzinger/ Icon SMISenior lineman John Urschel will be the keynote speaker at the final luncheon during the Big Ten media days.
Some things are more important than football -- and Ferguson's mother is sick -- but the questions will continue: Does Hackenberg lead now? When does O'Brien plan to announce the starter? And has Ferguson decided when he'll return to campus? The overall picture will remain blurry for a while, but hopefully part of it comes into focus this week.

3. DE Brad Bars' season-ending injury and depth concerns: Until the end of the sanctions, this will be a continuing theme -- and it seems especially newsworthy now because of Bars missing the season. There isn't much depth at defensive tackle and linebacker, and O'Brien should elaborate more on how he's trying to create, or make up for, depth at those positions.

4. Urschel to be a featured speaker at Thursday luncheon: He might just be the smartest football player in the Big Ten, and it will be interesting to hear what he has to say. All eyes will be on the All-Big Ten lineman, and he'll be representing B1G players as the keynote speaker.

Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson was the speaker last season, and he recounted his difficult upbringing and how his 5-year-old brother died when Denard was just 10 years old. That's a tough act to follow.

5. What kind of leadership will PSU have this season? With the departures of fiery quarterback Matt McGloin and the soul of the team in Michael Mauti, leadership on this team has obviously taken a hit. Maybe, then, it's no surprise that O'Brien is bringing along what could be considered the team's top three leaders. Teammates have referred to Willis as the "quarterback of the defense," Carson is the most experienced player on defense and Urschel has stepped up and become a vocal leader on offense.

Still, with a first-year quarterback at the helm -- and the departures of Jordan Hill, Michael Zordich, Matt Stankiewitch, Gerald Hodges and Stephon Morris -- just how big of a concern is the leadership? Even O'Brien didn't hide just how special of a player Mauti was, and it's somewhat reminiscent of the 2006 season, when PSU had to find an identity following the graduation of Michael Robinson and company.
Stephon MorrisJustin K. Aller/Getty ImagesStephon Morris is only 5-foot-8, but his speed is his calling card for NFL scouts.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Cornerback Stephon Morris couldn't suppress a grin when he stepped outside Holuba Hall right after Penn State's pro day.

With a white business card from the New England Patriots in hand, Morris said he spoke with several teams -- including the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans -- but that wasn't the only reason for the smile. Standing at 5-foot-8, he knew his time at the 40-yard dash would be critical.

"You can't have a slow 5-8 corner," he said. "So I'm just glad I wowed them."

Morris couldn't have been happier with his speed Monday afternoon. He claimed he spoke to two scouts after his 40, one of whom hand-timed him at 4.16 while another clocked him at 4.22 on the first run. His official time was a 4.35.

"A 4.16?" one reporter asked incredulously.

"Yeah," Morris said with a laugh. "I rode into it, though."

Although that unofficial number would be pretty impressive if accurate, the bottom line is that Morris was able to turn in a good time after missing a spot in the NFL combine by a mere two votes. He said he his measurements came in at 5-foot-8, 188 pounds, and he did 18 reps on the bench press.

The media wasn't permitted to watch the workouts, which 25 NFL teams attended, but Morris said he was pleased with the scouts' response to his numbers. When asked again about his speed, Morris pointed toward the Outback Bowl in 2011 when he ran down Florida tailback Chris Rainey, who's been timed as fast as 4.28 seconds.

Regardless of his times, though, Morris is just hoping he might hear his name called in late April.

"There's shockers who get drafted every year," Morris said. "And, hopefully, I'll be one of those shockers."

Early rounds: Linebacker Gerald Hodges and defensive tackle Jordan Hill said they're both hoping to be selected in the second or third rounds.

And if they do happen to drop to the fourth?

"I'll be a little upset," Hill acknowledged. But I'll be ready to go to work. I just need the opportunity; I need to get my foot in the door."

Said Hodges: "I'll be upset, too, if I went down that far, but I'm going to put it all in God's hands. Just as long as I have my chance to play in the NFL, it's a dream come true. No matter how you get there, it's how you perform once you get there."

Hodges said he'll be working out in State College for now and already has some individual workouts scheduled with a few teams. He wouldn't name them, but he did say he had formal interviews at the combine with the Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens, among others.

Hill impresses: The defensive tackle said he probably wasn't ready to run the 40-yard dash at the combine because of his lingering knee injury. But he wanted to do everything at the combine; he figured he'd just improve upon those numbers at pro day.

He did just that. He said he turned in a 4.97-second 40 -- 0.26 seconds faster than his combine time -- and increased his broad jump to 9-foot-3.

"I was able to get a full-night sleep; a lot more stress was off," Hill said. "It was my first 40 I ran out there ... and it was one of those things that was brand new to me."

Patience, patience: Now comes the hard part for Rimington Trophy finalist Matt Stankiewitch -- the waiting game.

The center said he felt relaxed after taking part in pro day, but he knew that feeling wouldn't last.

"Of course, you're on edge because you don't know what you're future's going to be like," he said. "I have it in my head that I'm going to get drafted. If I don't, I don't. If I do, I do. In the NFL, it matters where you end -- not where you start."

Stankiewitch took part in field drills and just the broad jump because he didn't want to risk injury and said he believed his numbers would likely be similar those at the NFL combine. He increased his broad jump six inches -- to 8-foot-2 from 7-8.

Package deal?: Fullback Michael Zordich is hoping to land on an NFL team, while his father is hoping for the same -- albeit as a coach -- after the Philadelphia Eagles revamped their staff.

The younger Zordich said the two often joke they're both looking for NFL jobs at the same time. And they're both on the phone trying to find the right place.

"That'd be awesome," he said about the two landing on the same team. "I wouldn't mind playing for Pop."

He said he's not sure whether he'll be drafted, but his focus at this point his just making it to a camp.

Position review: Complete overview 

December, 5, 2012
Penn StateAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPenn State rebounded from an 0-2 start to finish 8-4 in 2012.

During the last two weeks, NittanyNation has reviewed each of Penn State's positions -- complete with summaries, grades, highlights and weaknesses.

For the final review, NittanyNation gives a quick-hitting overview of each position, along with each unit's unsung hero:

Position review: Running back 

November, 27, 2012
Zach Zwinak, Daimion StaffordBruce Thorson/US PRESSWIREZach Zwinak was a huge surprise at running back, saving the Nittany Lions and producing after more heralded players faltered in the featured role.
Every day over the next two weeks, NittanyNation will take a closer look at each position and how Penn State fared over the course of the season.

Up today: Running back.

If one position symbolized Bill O'Brien's "next man up" philosophy, it would be this one. Bill Belton started the season as the main tailback, a sophomore who was expected to get 20-25 touches a game. Then he went down, and on came an ineffective Derek Day.

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Five most improved players since Week 1 

November, 13, 2012
Zach Zwinak, Daimion StaffordBruce Thorson/US PRESSWIREZach Zwinak was buried on Penn State's depth chart this summer, and now he's the Nittany Lions' best running back.

NittanyNation asked several players for their opinions and also looked at the tape to find Penn State's five most improved players since Week 1:

1. RB Zach Zwinak
He entered Week 1 as a player vying to become the fourth option at tailback: Bill Belton, Derek Day and Michael Zordich were on pace to get more playing time. But as injuries piled up, Zwinak made the most of his limited opportunities and quickly became Penn State's top tailback. He's rushed for at least 90 yards in five of the last seven contests. And in the last two games, he topped 130 yards. He's almost never tackled in the backfield and he even flashed some surprising speed against the Cornhuskers. Zwinak didn't just rise to become the top tailback on this offense. He's one of the team's best players.

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3 Up, 3 Down: PSU 34, Purdue 9 

November, 4, 2012
Matthew McGloinAP Photo/Darron CummingsMatthew McGloin is looking for depth at the wide receiver spots.

The good and the bad from Penn State's 34-9 win over Purdue on Saturday:


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Instant analysis: PSU 34, Purdue 9

November, 3, 2012

Penn State may have started off slow, but it corrected its mistakes quickly in a dominant 34-9 victory over Purdue.

The Nittany Lions' defense allowed an early field goal -- the only points it has allowed in the first quarter all season -- but kept Purdue scoreless until the game's final play. Penn State's offense also came on strong, as Matt McGloin set a school record by registering the fifth 300-yard game of his career.

McGloin finished with 321 passing yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Penn State improves to 6-3 (4-1 Big Ten) with the win, while Purdue drops to 3-6 (0-5).

It was over when: Michael Zordich scored late in the second quarter. Penn State drove 65 yards in less than a minute to claim a 20-3 halftime advantage as Zordich rumbled 5 yards for the TD. With the way Purdue's offense had played, chances at a comeback were slim at that point.

Game ball goes to: Gerald Hodges. The linebacker sprinted from sideline to sideline and seemed to be around the football at all times. He came away with a team-leading eight tackles -- three of which came in the backfield -- and gave Penn State the boost it needed. The defense dominated, forcing six punts and three turnovers on downs, and Hodges was a big reason why.

Stat of the game: One. That was the number of third-down conversions Purdue converted in its first 12 attempts. Penn State's third-down defense was consistent all game, and the Boilermakers struggled to sustain any drives despite great field position in the first half.

Unsung hero: Zach Zwinak. He was the featured tailback against Purdue, and he didn't disappoint. The 6-foot-1, 232-pound bruiser wore the defense down and rumbled for 134 yards on 21 carries. He played a critical role in balancing this offense and moving the chains.

What it means: Penn State started off slow and usually that's been a foreshadowing of what to expect the rest of the game. Instead, the Nittany Lions adjusted and showed they can overcome a bad start.

Career day: Brandon Moseby-Felder set personal bests in receptions and receiving yards by catching six balls for 129 yards and a touchdown. Moseby-Felder has slowly emerged as the No. 2 wideout on this team, and this was his breakout game.

5 storylines: Penn State vs. Ohio State 

October, 25, 2012
Every week, NittanyNation takes a look at five storylines that stand out: What should fans keep an eye on? What's the bigger picture? What might be on display Saturday?

Here are NittanyNation's Week 9 storylines:

[+] EnlargeMichael Zordich
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarMichael Zordich said PSU has plenty to play for on Saturday.
1. Inelligi-Bowl. You can point to the NFL talent on these two teams, PSU overcoming adversity to make it this far or Ohio State's perfect record. But let's face it, everyone will be looking at the fact neither team can reach the postseason this year. But that's also what makes this game more important. A win here would put either team in the driver's seat for the Leaders Division title. That's the only accolade either team can hope for, so everything will be on the line Saturday. "That's what makes this game so important," Penn State fullback Michael Zordich said, "because both of these teams are playing just for Saturdays."

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Visitors' list: Plenty of RBs to attend 

October, 24, 2012
Penn State StadiumJustin K. Aller/Getty ImagesDozens of prospects are expected to be in Happy Valley this weekend.
More high school tailbacks will be on the sideline Saturday night than Penn State will have on the field.

More than 40 recruits are expected to be in Happy Valley for this season's biggest game, and there will be no shortage of running backs. About half-a-dozen scholarship or scholarship-worthy backs will be in the crowd, and NittanyNation gives you a rundown of those backs -- as well as other players who have committed to attend:

Scholarship backs

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Watch: Zordich talks Buckeyes, O'Brien

October, 24, 2012

Tuesdays with O'Brien: Dual threat?

October, 23, 2012
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Don't tell Bill O'Brien his quarterback can't be a dual threat.

"What are you talking about?" the coach yelled in mock exasperation Tuesday when a reporter made that statement. "Were you at the Northwestern game?"

An animated O'Brien thrust out his arm and smiled while addressing the athleticism of Matt McGloin, who's rushed for five touchdowns and countless first downs this season. Maybe "dual threat" wasn't the right adjective to describe a senior whose slides and dives have been known to cause a few chuckles, but O'Brien said his signal-caller can move.

"People always use that label 'dual threat,' and I always use the example of Tom Brady -- and one of the best qualities about Tom Brady is his feet in the pocket," O'Brien said. "What we've tried to do with Matt is teach him about pocket awareness, and Matt's done a good job of that."

Fullback Michael Zordich, who stood off to the side during the media conference, took the dais and -- joke or not -- smiled about the notion McGloin was a running threat.

"It's debatable, that comment," Zordich said with a laugh. "But, nah, we mess around with him because we always say he's not that athletic -- but he's very good at getting away from the pocket and evading pressure. It's really impressive.

"I wouldn't go as far as calling him an athlete, but I'll give him credit for that."

McGloin's awkward touchdown "dive" -- or faceplant, depending how you look at it -- became a memorable .gif in the world of social media. But there's no debating his efficiency: McGloin has 1,788 passing yards, 19 total touchdowns and just two interceptions.

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Penn State 10: Week 7 power rankings 

October, 15, 2012
Allen RobinsonRob Carr/Getty ImagesAllen Robinson has become a go-to receiver for PSU this season.

Welcome to Week 7 of NittanyNation's power rankings, a top-10 list of Penn State players who are surpassing expectations, and who to keep an eye on.

After Penn State's bye week, NittanyNation decided to make this week's list a little different. Instead of factoring expectations and granting a lot of weight to the last game, we've ranked these players based purely on talent and results.

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Grading the Lions: Midseason report card 

October, 14, 2012
Bill O'Brien spent the bye week evaluating his talent at midseason, so NittanyNation felt inspired to do the same.

Here's the Nittany Lions' midseason report card:

Quarterbacks: A

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Breaking down PSU's remaining offers 

October, 11, 2012
With about four scholarships left to give this year, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien and his staff are treading carefully -- but that doesn't mean they're starting to relax.

Quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher has taken to the road this week, and Tuesday he was in Iowa. On Friday, O'Brien and assistant coach Charles London will be in Fork Union, Va.

They've been working the phones this week, and it appears the staff is now focusing on four positions for those remaining scholarships. Penn State might choose to hold on to two offers after signing day, just in case a player decides to bolt during the offseason, but the staff seems intent to sign players at these four positions.

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