UNIVERSITY PARK — The 11 carries senior Michael Zordich received Saturday against Navy represented a major offensive workload for a fullback in a system known for three-and four-receiver formations.
The volume of work Zordich received also demonstrated Penn State’s plight at running back.
Starter Bill Belton missed his second straight game because of an ankle injury and Derek Day didn’t play because of a separated shoulder suffered in the second half of last weekend’s loss at Virginia. Enter Zordich.
One of the Nittany Lions’ emotional leaders became the team’s leading rusher in a 34-7 victory over Navy.
The 6-foot-1, 236-pound Zordich barreled his way to 50 yards. Zordich learned Monday he might factor more into the offensive plan. He said he knew by Tuesday that his running role would be expanded and he would receive some work at tailback. Saturday marked Zordich’s first extensive action as a tailback since his senior year at Cardinal Mooney High School back in Youngstown, Ohio.
“It wasn’t very difficult,” he said. “It was more fun than anything. It’s something I used to do and I got to do it again.
“I spend each day in the film room with these guys. I know enough to get into it. Once I knocked a little bit of rust off, I was fine.”
Zordich was one of just three Nittany Lions to tote the ball. Junior Curtis Dukes had 47 yards on 11 carries and quarterback Matt McGloin gained 13 yards on six carries.
The most intriguing backfield option unveiled Saturday wasn’t even an offensive player.
Defensive tackle Jordan Hill made his offensive debut when Penn State moved to the Navy 2-yard line on the game’s opening drive.
Hill was on the field for two offensive plays. He lined up as a tight end on the first one. He was in the backfield on the second play, which ended with Matt McGloin tossing a 2-yard touchdown pass to freshman tight end Jesse James.
Playing offense isn’t a new experience for Hill. As a fullback at Steelton- Highspire High School near Harrisburg, he helped tailback Jeremiah Young establish Pennsylvania’s career rushing record.
Young now plays at Bucknell. “I pride myself on that,” Hill said. “He was one of my best friends growing up. Knowing his talent, I said, ‘Hey, just follow me. We are going this way and you are going to get there.’”
On his weekly radio show on Thursday, Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said a mystery runner would be used against Navy. O’Brien was asked after the game whether Hill was that player.
“I’m not telling,” O’Brien said. “Yeah, he is part of the mystery running back committee.”
Hill seems ready to play more offense.
“All options are available,” he said. “I really like lead blocking. I was excited for that first play. The linebacker actually came down and cut me. He went straight for my legs. I was a little upset about that. We will see how it goes.”
Smith doesn't play
Penn State played without a big part of its offensive line. Donovan Smith, a talented 6-foot-5, 316-pound redshirt freshman left tackle, didn’t dress because of an ankle injury he suffered last weekend at Virginia.
O’Brien said Smith should be ready for next weekend’s game against Temple.
With Smith out, Mike Farrell and Adam Gress started at left and right tackle, respectively. The Nittany Lions juggled their offensive line throughout the game, giving Angelo Mangiro and Eric Shrive first-team work. Mangiro played left guard and Shrive worked at right tackle.
“You try to learn by playing,” O’Brien said. “That’s what we need to do.”
Three Penn State players notched their first career receptions, beginning with James, a tight end, who ended the opening drive with a touchdown.
James was one of two true freshmen to snag a McGloin pass.
Trevor Williams had a 24-yard reception in the second quarter.
McGloin also completed a pass to the player he nudged out to win the starting quarterback job. Paul Jones, who recently moved to ‘F’ tight end, had a 7- yard reception in the second quarter.
Is O’Brien’s confidence in sophomore kicker Sam Ficken waning?
Facing a fourth-and-goal from the Navy 8, O’Brien elected to run an offensive play instead of sending Ficken out for a 25-yard kick. The play ended with McGloin throwing an incomplete pass in the end zone.
“I felt good about the play call,” O’Brien said. “It had nothing to do with Sam Ficken.”
Ficken didn’t attempt a field goal and went 4 of 5 on extra points, missing one wide right in the second quarter. He kicked off six times, with four landing in the end zone for touchbacks.
Ficken missed four goals and an extra point was blocked in last weekend’s 17-16 loss at Virginia.
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy
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