Zwinak comes up big before fumble
UNIVERSITY PARK - Running back Zach Zwinak had a great game for Penn State, but he couldn't have felt too great about it after a big fumble late in the fourth quarter.
Zwinak carried 21 times for 128 yards and a career-high three touchdowns, plus he busted free for a 38-yard run. His evening took a turn for the worse, though, when he fumbled at the Central Florida 29 with 5:43 remaining and the Nittany Lions trailing, 34-24.
"At the end of the day, that fumble didn't make or break this game," PSU guard John Urschel said. "There were a lot of big plays in this game that we could have made and we didn't."
Had Penn State scored a touchdown on that drive and its defense held, it would have gotten the ball back down by three with at least a couple of minutes left.
"Just saw it from behind, it just looked like they stripped it out, and he feels bad about that," coach Bill O'Brien said. "I feel bad about that, but he ran the ball hard tonight, and I love that kid. We're with him and he's with us. Just a tough way to end it for him, but he'll be fine. He's got a lot of football left here and he'll be fine."
Zwinak had fumble issues last year but has protected the ball well this season.
"Zach had a great game," quarterback Christian Hackenberg said. "Mistakes happen. Everyone's made their share of mistakes this year. I just told him to keep his head up and keep going, and he did."
Ficken's streak ends
Place-kicker Sam Ficken had his streak of 15 consecutive field goals end when he missed a 57-yarder at the end of the first half. Ficken had already made a career-long 47-yarder, which had plenty of distance on it.
"I was pretty confident, but unfortunately on that 57-yarder I got a little under the ball and it just ended up being like a yard or 2 short," Ficken said. "I think if the kicks would have ended up being switched they both would have been good."
What looked like it was going to a nice recruiting game for the Nittany Lions never materialized.
The Lions had expected to have Tennessee junior receiver Van Jefferson, Cincinnati junior linebacker Justin Hilliard and Maryland junior athletes Trey Lee and Juwan Brisco in to watch the game at one point and were even hoping to get New Jersey senior linebacker Jason Cabinda to Beaver Stadium, but none of them made it.
Jefferson and Hillard were the two highest regarded prospects. Jefferson had a game on Friday and his father, Shawn, the former NFL player, is an assistant coach with the Tennessee Titans, so it was too much of a scheduling crunch. According to Rivals.com's Josh Helmboldt, Hilliard instead will come to Penn State's game with Michigan, which is shaping up to be the biggest recruiting game of the year.
Lee and Brisco are teammates at Thomas Stone High School in Waldorf. They had to cancel their plans to be in Happy Valley when their game was switched from Friday to Saturday.
Several players that already had committed to the Lions were in attendance, like Virginia running back Nick Scott, Maryland defensive back Marcus Allen and Scranton offensive lineman Noah Beh. Maryland running back Mark Allen and Virginia defensive back Troy Vincent also were believed to have been on hand, but that couldn't be confirmed by press deadline.
The most intriguing uncommitted players that were on the sidelines and in the stands were Clearfield linebacker Christian Lezzer and underclassman quarterbacks Sonny Abramson and Alex Malzone. Lezzer has verbally committed to Boston College, but two of his uncles played for Penn State, and he could switch his pledge if the Lions offer a scholarship.
Abramson is a sophomore from New Jersey. Malzone is a junior from Michigan.
Looking ahead to next year
Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney said he tried to lure an NFL game to Dublin while serving as the United States ambassador to Ireland, but more games in London again this fall made that impossible. So, in working with the Gaelic Athletic Association, he helped bring Penn State and Central Florida to the Croke Park Classic, scheduled for Aug. 30, 2014 at Dublin's Croke Park.
Rooney, along with GAA officials Paraic Duffy and Peter McKenna, visited Saturday at Beaver Stadium to unveil the Classic's Rooney Trophy, a football replica made of wood from 4,000-year old Irish forest remnants and thongs of steel from Three Rivers Stadium.
Croke Park's capacity will be about 69,000 for this game, Duffy said. The GAA also administers the All-Ireland finals of Hurling and Gaelic Football each fall. The event, played among adult amateurs, recently drew more than 82,000. Hurling, which the GAA touts as perhaps the world's oldest and fastest field game, combines elements of football, baseball, hockey, and rugby with 15-person teams.
"I though [football] had no chance in Ireland, but then I saw the Hurling finals, and the Gaelic final in football, and it's amazing," said Rooney at a pregame press conference. "They're great athletes. All they do is run, run all the time."
While college football might be the second choice for Dublin, Duffy said Penn State was an immediate first choice for a college team. He said Notre Dame and Penn State are the most popular college teams there, and the Patriots are the most popular pro team due to their Irish connection from playing in Boston. He also hoped to replicate the Beaver Stadium tailgating atmosphere overseas and sell out Croke Park.
"Having 95,000 attendance here is a huge statement about how people feel about their football team, and people at home feel passionate about their sports," said Duffy. "We want the two colleges, when they come here, to see the same enthusiasm."
News and notes
PSU's captains were LB Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, RT Adam Gress and T DaQuan Jones. Zwinak started at RB, Gress at RT. LB Mike Hull (knee) didn't start but did play, although he was affected by his injury. S Adrian Amos played some cornerback in the fourth quarter after the Lions had been burned by receivers most of the night. TE Kyle Carter (left arm) didn't play early but did see a good bit of action. WR Allen Robinson became just the third PSU receiver with three straight 100-yard games (Kenny Jackson 1982, Joe Jurevicius 1996).
(Compiled by Cory Giger, Philip Cmor and Ben Brigandi)