Franklin wins home opener over Zips

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - SPORTS - By FRANK BO­DANI

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.”

Chris Dunn/Dig­i­tal First Me­dia

Penn State’s Geno Lewis lands short of a pass from quar­ter­back Christian Hack­en­berg against Akron’s Devyn Wood dur­ing the first quar­ter.

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