STATE COLLEGE — The most important play of Penn State’s shocking upset Saturday may not have happened last year.
Simply because Bill Belton wouldn’t have allowed it.
He would have charged smack straight ahead, probably got stuffed, and wound up dwelling on what went wrong on a critical fourth-down running play.
But something’s changed with Belton these days, and the difference was noticeable in Penn State’s biggest moment of the year — he waited.
“It was a slow-developing play,” Belton said.
This time, the running back was quick to adjust to it, and it gave Penn State a chance at victory.
Fourth-and-one. That’s what Penn State was looking at, trailing by three points in a fourth overtime against Michigan.
And instead of kicking a field goal to tie the game and force a fifth overtime, the Nittany Lions wanted to go for the win right there. So they gave Belton the ball.
“I’m like, ‘I don’t get the yard, I’m going to hear it for the rest of the year. I’m getting the yard,’ ” Belton said.
He actually got three, picking up the first down that led to - quite fittingly - his own game-winning 2-yard touchdown run.
But not before he hesitated. Before barreling ahead, Belton stopped in back of the line of scrimmage, waited for some movement up front, then shot through for the first down.
All he heard was cheers.
“Had to be patient,” Belton said. “I see a hole, I want to hit it.”
Three plays and a penalty later, Belton was in the end zone, capping off his impressive 85-yard rushing performance by skirting around left end for the two-yard touchdown that beat Michigan, 43-40.
“He made a lot of things happen,” Penn State offensive lineman John Urschel said, “when we as an offensive line didn’t make a lot happen for him.”
“Bill did a great job,” fellow Lions lineman Devon Smith said.
And it left Belton with the greatest feeling he ever felt at Penn State.
“It was great,” Belton said. “Coach had confidence in me. And I had confidence.”