Zwinak leaving mark with running style

Zach Zwinak passes on the aspirin and the ice baths after games. He feels sore with every step, but the downhill runner opts for the old-fashioned method.

He just ignores the pain.

"It usually hurts just walking around," he said with a laugh. "I try to just rest up and, by Sunday, usually you're fine."

The 232-pound fullback-turned-tailback has put a hurting on defenses the last two games. He rushed for 94 and 100 yards, respectively, and those totals have pushed him into season-leader status.

He breaks tackles and pushes defenders aside so often he now leads Penn State in rushing yards (196), per-carry average (4.9) and trails only Matt McGloin in touchdowns (2). Even Zwinak has been surprised by his performance.

"It was pretty shocking," the red-headed redshirt sophomore said. "I didn't expect to come in like that. When I get in the game, I'm going to run the ball and get what I get."

Zwinak doesn't dance in the backfield. He doesn't take swift cuts and juke upfield after pitches. He just lowers his head, moves his shoulders and goes straight up the defense like a battering ram.

"He's like a Mack truck coming through there," safety Malcolm Willis said. "He's determined to get any positive yardage he can."

Zwinak, who along with Michael Zordich forms the "Killer Z's," entered this season without a nickname and without thoughts of a 500-yard benchmark. He wasn't Plan B, Plan C -- or even Plan D. He was Penn State's sixth option in the spring, and fifth option when Silas Redd transferred. He was the PSU panic button.

After injuries to its top-four tailbacks, Penn State was forced to either hit that button or burn the redshirt of true freshman Akeel Lynch. Bill O'Brien decided to try Zwinak when Zordich bruised his knee against Temple, and the bruising back didn't disappoint.

Zwinak followed-up Zordich's impressive half by rumbling for 94 yards and averaging more than five yards a touch. He leaned against a white wall after the game, his hands folded behind his back, and kept using the word "fortunate" to describe his performance.

"I was just fortunate that the line was great," Zwinak said again Wednesday.

Zwinak didn't expect to get so many carries against Temple. He didn't expect to run for 100 yards against Illinois. And he really has no expectations against Northwestern; he said he just has to be prepared.

He hopes to improve his blocking and devote more time to catching balls out of the backfield. But he said he's content with his running style -- even if his legs are a little sore afterward.

"He's a competitive kid, and it's really, really important to him to play football at Penn State," O'Brien said. "And he's done a nice job the last two weeks, but we've got seven more to go, so he's got to keep it going."