Four games. Four different starting tailbacks. Four different leading rushers. While the depth is nice, Penn State would prefer the results to be better, ranking just 94th in the country in rushing at 124 yards per game.
On Saturday, the Nittany Lions should get some help.
Top backs Bill Belton and Derek Day are both expected to play in the Big Ten opener at Illinois. Both had suited up last week, but spent the afternoon against Temple on the sideline.
‚??(Belton) practiced yesterday and looked decent,‚?Ě Lions coach Bill O‚??Brien said. ‚??So we would anticipate him being ready to go for the game.‚?Ě
The sophomore tabbed to replace Silas Redd injured his left ankle in the second half of the opener against Ohio and missed the next three games. Day stepped in to start the next week at Virginia but suffered a separated shoulder and sat out the last two weeks.
Even third-stringer Curtis Dukes missed the Temple game with a minor thigh injury. Fullback Michael Zordich stepped in at tailback the last two games but was forced out of the contest late with a bruised knee. He said he would return to practice Tuesday and be ready for Saturday.
O‚??Brien expects all four, along with last week‚??s leading rusher, Zach Zwinak, will be available to face the Illini. How the carries are divvied up remains to be seen.
‚??It‚??s tough to use all five. Definitely tough to use all five,‚?Ě O‚??Brien said. ‚??I definitely see us using two or three. Depends how they practice during the week. ‚?Ľ We‚??ll decide then as a coaching staff who‚??s going to play on Saturday.‚?Ě
Belton was installed as the starter before preseason camp opened, almost immediately after Silas Redd transferred to USC. Assuming his ankle is at or near 100 percent, he figures to get the nod and the bulk of the snaps in the backfield.
A wide receiver in his first season on campus, Belton brings the most versatility to the position.
‚??All of the kids bring a little bit of a different skillset to the table,‚?Ě O‚??Brien said. ‚??Billy is a guy that has good feet, good vision, and can catch the football. So it‚??s good to have him back because he‚??s another type of change-of-pace type of running back.‚?Ě
Penn State listed Belton, Day and Zordich all as probable to play. Left tackle Donovan Smith (foot/ankle) and defensive end Sean Stanley (back) also received the ‚??probable‚?Ě label.
Smith has missed two games while Stanley was held out last week for precautionary reasons.
Defensive end Pete Massaro (shoulder) was listed as ‚??possible‚?Ě to play, but O‚??Brien does not expect to have him available.
Shortly after his team was trounced 52-24 on Saturday by Louisiana Tech, Illinois coach Tim Beckman wouldn‚??t commit to a starting quarterback.
Three-year starter Nathan Scheelhaase had missed two weeks within an ankle injury before returning last week against the Bulldogs. A strong start was followed by two turnovers, causing Beckman to yank him in favor of backup Reilly O‚??Toole
On Monday, Beckman solidified things by choosing Scheelhaase to start against Penn State.
‚??I want to make sure that everyone is 100 percent,‚?Ě Beckman said of his initial indecision. ‚??He came back in, played a couple series and then we felt that it was in the best interest for the football team to put Reilly in there at that time.
‚??(Scheelhaase) will compete, he was healthy yesterday. Nathan Scheelhaase is our starting quarterback.‚?Ě