Franklin wins home opener over Zips
STATE COLLEGE — After it was finished, running back Bill Belton dropped to one knee in front of the Penn State student section and bowed his head. For a few moments he prayed, gave thanks and gathered himself.
The senior needed that.
The usually soft-spoken, calm, in-control kind of guy had just experienced one of the more frustrating Saturday afternoons of his college career. If anything, this 21-3 taffypull of a victory over Akron in the first home opener of the James Franklin Era was a test of patience, all around.
From the sturdy defense that still is looking to make the noisy, momentum- turning plays.
To the star quarterback who continues to force passes into places he shouldn’t.
To those experienced and talented tailbacks who have been accustomed to open running lanes, not prolonged struggles behind a green offensive line.
“We gotta be more patient as a group, and a lot of it’s on the leaders ...,” Belton said. “We gotta bring the young guys along and not get
leader frustrated with how the game’s going early on.
“You could see that today,” he said, after another day of hard running and cutting but only 36 yards on nine carries. “Looking for the big plays instead of taking what the defense gives me. Last year, I did a good job with (that) ... but I’ve been starting to get away from that. I was just seeing things that were not there.”
It was that kind of sultry, early-season day, a week after the long trip to Ireland and the emotional, last-second victory. The energy jolt of Franklin’s debut and playing in front of the home fans seemed to dissipate quickly enough against a noninspiring and limited opponent that still had some decent punches.
The harder the Penn State defense pushed, the more Akron kept grinding out just enough first downs, changing field position, being careful not to make the big mistake.
And the more the offense tried to accelerate, the more speed bumps popped up. From missed blocks to illtimed, improvised running to Christian Hackenberg’s belief he can fit a football into any kind of space.
To the Lions’ credit, at least, they kept pounding and trying new things until the flow loosened and everything rolled as expected down the end stretch.
“You start getting frustrated with things. So guys start to try to do their own things and create plays,” Franklin said. “That happens up front, that happens at running back and that happens at a lot of positions where you start to go outside the system. We just have to be disciplined and work at it.
“There are times when Bill (Belton) just has to trust it. In his defense, there are times where he is making people miss in the backfield, which makes it difficult.”
Belton certainly wasn’t the only example of things not going smoothly or quite as planned. But he was, for sure, in the middle of a lot of the struggles.
One of Penn State’s fumbles happened when a shotgun snap fired too soon, bouncing off Belton’s leg as he ran in motion in the backfield. One of the day’s most awkward attempts came with Belton getting a pitch, rolling right and lobbing a pass back across the field ... to his quarterback. Hackenberg stretched for it, but the play wasn’t really close to working.
Belton said he could feel the frustration build in the huddle as the Lions protected narrow leads of 7-0 at halftime and 7-3 late in the third quarter.
Things were far too quiet with this teammates.
“Sometimes, when everything’s not popping the way it’s supposed to, you get frustrated and you get ahead of yourself,” he said. “I think a majority of us did that today.”
Penn State’s Geno Lewis lands short of a pass from quarterback Christian Hackenberg against Akron’s Devyn Wood during the first quarter.