UNIVERSITY PARK - Michael Zordich, in his seeming quest to prove to Bill O'Brien that he was a running back in a fullback's body, broke out a couple of moves in the early going that few of the more than 96,000 that attended Penn State's 24-13 win over Temple knew he had.
No one, though, was prepared to watch him try to channel Gale Sayers and hurdle Owl free safety Vaughn Carraway in an attempt to get to the first down marker with a Matt McGloin screen pass in the second quarter.
It wasn't textbook - Carraway ended up with a face-full of Zordich's knee. Then most of the 24-yard gain was wiped out by a holding penalty.
Still, Zordich was getting his chance.
"It was a good time," Zordich said. "The line was getting off the ball. I was able to find some holes, and I was just having a good time out there playing football."
On a day when the 30th anniversary of the Nittany Lions' first national championship team - of which Zordich's father was a part - was celebrated, Zordich and Zach Zwinak did their best to turn back the clock to Penn State's past and the days of bruising runners like John Cappelletti, Bob Torrey, Matt Suhey and Aaron Harris while the team's top three tailbacks, Bill Belton, Derek Day and Curtis Dukes, all sat out with injuries.
The duo, checking in at a combined weight of 468 pounds, battered the Owls to the tune of 169 yards on 33 carries. They also caught five passes between them.
"It was fun to watch him and Zach run the ball today," O'Brien said of Zordich.
Zordich, the 236-pound senior from Youngstown, Ohio, set a new personal single-game and career high for rushing yardage for the second time in as many weeks, going for 75 yards on 15 carries, including runs of 16 and 14 yards to go along with four receptions for an additional 39 yards - one a 27-yard gainer.
After Zordich left the game in the third quarter with what was initially diagnosed as a bruised knee, Zwinak, the highly-touted redshirt sophomore from Frederick, Md., took over.
Zwinak was stopped for no gain on his first run. Then he gathered some steam and some confidence and showed why recruiting services considered him the No. 1 fullback in the country coming out of Linganore High School, displaying a surprising burst for someone his size and racking up 94 yards without any negative-yard plays.
"It felt good to finally be able to get in the game. I worked hard for a while, and I was fortunate that the coaches thought I could do it. It was exciting," Zwinak, who was injured last year, said. "My first carry didn't really go anywhere. It just takes a second. This is really my first time carrying the ball at the collegiate level. Once you get the speed down, it just goes from there."
In the fourth quarter, Zwinak came an eyelash from breaking one up the middle for a 71-yard touchdown run. He was just tripped up for a 7-yard pick-up, then rambled for 15 on the ensuing down.
"When you run over somebody, you feel great. You just knocked them down. Breaking a long run, it's like, 'Yeah, I can move, too,'" Zwinak said. "I was a little upset afterward, but then you've got to just let it go and move on to the next play. I remember when I went down, I was like, 'Man, I was so close.'"
Zordich spent most of the game forcing the Owls to gang-tackle him, but he showed some elusiveness and even carried the ball to the outside. As one reporter remarked during the postgame press conferences, though, Zordich was never as elusive as when he was unexpectedly whisked from the media room after about a half-dozen questions so he could meet with the trainers.
Zordich seemed to be moving well after the game. He came up limping after taking a shot along the Penn State sideline.
"It's a tough position. I took a little hit. I should just be able to ice it up and get back," Zordich said.
O'Brien didn't have any further reports on Zordich's injury, but he downplayed it, too.
"He's a tough kid," O'Brien said. "He'll probably just spit on it and be back."
If Zordich is fine, Penn State should have plenty of options when it comes to handing the ball off as the Big Ten season begins. Belton, Day and Dukes - the latter was held out with what O'Brien said was a thigh injury - all figure to be back. That gives the Lions five different backs who have rushed for at least 47 yards in a game this season, and each of them provides O'Brien with a different set of tools and talents to mix and match.
"Billy's coming along. That was a pretty significant ankle sprain he had in the Ohio game," O'Brien said of Belton, the Lions' starting tailback at the beginning of the year after incumbent Silas Redd transferred to USC. "Hopefully, he'll get back in there this week, and it'll be more of a running back by committee, because these guys have run the football well. So, we'll have a rotation there, and hopefully one of them will get hot."
Zwinak has nearly the size of Zordich but has shown much greater straight ahead speed. Still, Zordich is much more experienced, and Zwinak wants to take advantage of that.
"I just watched him throughout the weeks of practice. I watch the older guys - Zordich, Derek Day, Bill Belton when he was here - and watch what they do, because they make it work, and then use it for myself," Zwinak said. "[Zordich] could play tailback anywhere. He's got great feet, great ability, and he's a good runner."
Zordich had a couple of seasons where he ran for nearly 1,000 yards at Cardinal Mooney High School working in a tandem with former Nittany Lion Brandon Beachum. And, while O'Brien brings to mind a new era of Penn State football, for one game, at least, a past of grinding runners breaking tackles and chewing up yards, lived again.
"I didn't really know that, because I didn't follow Penn State until I got recruited. Once I got here, though, I realized that's the way it was done," Zwinak said. "It's nice to see they still can do that today."