When South Dakota State running back Zach Zenner took a bobbled snap 75 yards for a touchdown against Missouri in his first carry of the season last week, it wasn’t all that much of a surprise.
It’s the third season in a row the two-time Walter Payton Award finalist — and only the second FCS player to rush for 2,000 in two seasons — has had a big touchdown run on his first or second carry.
He had a 36-yard scoring run on his second touch in the opener against Butler last year and ran 99 yards on his second carry at Kansas in 2012.
The Jackrabbits lost preseason all-conference quarterback Austin Sumner to a foot injury against the Tigers, but to Cal Poly, the player giving the handoffs might not matter as much as the one taking them in today’s game.
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“He’s way faster than people think,” Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh said. “He’s way thicker and stronger than you think, and he’s really good with his eyes at the line of scrimmage.
That’s what they ask him to do. He picks and chooses where he’s going to go, and when he hits it, he hits it downhill with some speed and velocity. So, I think he’s obviously one of the best players in the country.”
Zenner burst on the scene to lead the nation in rushing with 2,044 yards in 2012. Last season, he ran for 2,015 yards and 23 touchdowns.
His 6,005 career all-purpose yards are already a Missouri Valley Conference record, and with 4,632 career rushing yards he needs only 115 yards to set the conference rushing record.
“He’s a gifted athlete, but he’s taken his gifts and maximized them,” 18-year South Dakota State head coach John Stiegelmeier said. “He works harder than any young man I’ve ever been around, and I say that without flinching.”