PSU tailback Belton lets play do the talking

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Bill Belton didn't smile on Saturday as the media surrounded him with bright lights and tape recorders.

He became the first Penn State player to rush for 200 yards in a game since 2002, back when Larry Johnson crossed the 2,000-yard plateau and made a push for Heisman consideration. Belton celebrated his ninth birthday the last time the milestone was reached.

But Belton, as even-tempered as they come, spoke Saturday as if he rushed for 21 yards instead of 201. There was no sense of achievement in his voice, even after the emotional overtime win against Illinois. He barely grinned and spoke in a monotone voice, as if he were delivering a history report to a handful of disinterested students.

"Like I said before, the offensive line did a great job out there," he said. "All the credit goes to them."

You can take some credit, though. Can't you?

"A little bit. But I just want to, like, give it all to the linemen because they did a great job."

The junior tailback, who was relegated to backup just a month ago, let his play do most of the talking against Illinois -- and it was plenty loud. He had a career-high 36 carries and a career-high 201 rushing yards. He was never tackled in the backfield, accounted for nine first downs and 123 of his yards (5.85 ypc) came on first down alone.

He outgained Illinois' two backs by nearly a 4-to-1 margin and, with quite a few cut-backs and jukes, he made sure at least a few Illini defenders would be nursing sore ankles the next day.

"When he has a game like that it's not really surprising because you see it all year long," offensive guard Miles Dieffenbach said. "You're just waiting for him to have a breakout game like that."

During part of the locker room celebration, a video of which was posted online, the team erupted -- "All right, Billy!" -- in applause and cheers when Bill O'Brien mentioned Belton's 201-yard performance. Defensive backs Adrian Amos and Ryan Keiser smiled, waving their arms and recreating the game-ending interception. Belton, speaking with a large grass stain on his left shoulder pad, spoke in a whisper and deflected praise elsewhere.

The mild-mannered tailback, who prefers talking about his linemen instead of his career bests, has come a long way since last season, when he switched from wideout and struggled. O'Brien expected him to carry the ball about 25 times a game; he finished the season with 60 carries.

He looked lost at times. In the preseason, he admitted he just wasn't ready last year; he just wasn't a running back. But, this season, when fumbles forced Zach Zwinak to the bench against Michigan, Belton took over -- and looked just like the back O'Brien had envisioned. He rushed for 85, 98 and 201 yards in the past three games, and his 98 yards against Ohio State remains the most the Buckeyes have given up all season.

Belton glanced down Saturday afternoon and politely declined to address last season's "issues," of unfulfilled expectations and academic problems. But he didn't hesitate when asked just where this improvement came from.

"All of it is coaching," he said. "Instincts got me where I was last year; coaching got me where I am today."

Belton walked off the field Saturday and surveyed the chanting crowd. He swore he wasn't tired -- although he was probably just fine with a single overtime this time around -- and appeared to just take the entire experience in.

The closest he came to praising himself was retweeting a few congratulations over social media. It was a career-day for him, but he acted as if he'd been there before -- and, at this pace -- it sure looks like he'll be there again.