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Pinstripe Bowl Preview: Boston College vs. Penn State

Boston College’s 2014 season was a roller coaster to say the least. This is a team that was far more successful than its 7-5 record indicates, after hanging in with the likes of Florida State and Clemson. This is also the same team that shocked the nation by defeating the ninth-ranked USC Trojans in Chestnut Hill, a win that gave the rebuilding program a much needed signature victory.

Penn State’s season was a similar roller coaster. After starting the season 4-0, the team dropped its next four games. The Nittany Lions won their next two to become bowl-eligible, but two losses to Illinois and Michigan State to close the year killed the momentum from the previous two wins.

The Pinstripe Bowl between the two will be a good ol’ fashioned slugfest. Let’s see what fans should keep an eye on as the Eagles and Nittany Lions square off on Saturday.

BC Players to Watch

QB Tyler Murphy:

In his first season at Boston College after transferring from Florida as a graduate student, Tyler Murphy provided a much needed dual threat spark, and fit Steve Addazio’s ground-oriented offense perfectly. Murphy was a little known prospect coming out of high school, only garnering a two-star ranking from rivals. He waited in the wings at Florida, sitting behind blue chip prospects Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett for the majority of his career. He did not see meaningful game action until the tumultuous 2013 season, in which Florida stumbled to a 4-8 record. Murphy took over for Driskel three games into the season after Driskel suffered a broken leg against Tennessee. Murphy became a fan favorite overnight after leading the Gators to victory against the Volunteers, and continued to look sharp throughout the early portion of the season as the Gators notched victories against Kentucky and Arkansas in back-to-back weeks.

Murphy suffered a shoulder injury against Vanderbilt, and would unfortunately see his season cut short. Murphy finished with respectable numbers given the circumstances: 1,216 yards, six touchdowns, five interceptions, and a completion percentage of 60.5. He decided to transfer out of Florida’s program with Driskel returning and hot young prospect Treon Harris favored to succeed him, and ultimately landed with former Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio at Boston College.

Murphy was the driving force behind Boston College’s remarkable rushing attack, finishing the season with 1,079 yards and 10 touchdowns on 170 carries. His rushing mark was good for third overall in the ACC, while also breaking both the ACC single-season quarterback rushing record, as well as Doug Flutie’s BC career record of 956 yards — a record set over four years, mind you. Through the air, Murphy was marginally productive, though somewhat turnover prone. On the season, Murphy finished 120-211 for 1,526 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. Murphy possesses a solid arm — nothing to write home about, but he can get the job done. The threat Murphy poses on the ground is a completely different story, however, and he will be a great test for Penn State’s notoriously stout rushing defense. Holding him in check will be an arduous task, but if Penn State wants to leave New York City victorious, it must be done.

Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop shared his thoughts on Murphy at media day.

“We’re familiar with him, he was the starting quarterback at Florida when we were at Vanderbilt last year. It’s amazing what confidence will do for you, and he’s playing with a lot of it right now,” Shoop said. “He makes plays with his feet, and they don’t ask him to throw the ball a lot, but when he does throw he’s very efficient. He’s a 1000 yard rusher, and is clearly the guy who runs their offense. This is a team that has big wide receivers who don’t get the ball thrown their way very much, but when they do, they catch it, and they play their roles well. This is a talented team, no doubt, and we’re very aware that Tyler Murphy is the undisputed leader of their group.”

When the spotlight is on him, Murphy produces. In what will be his final collegiate game, expect him to hold nothing back as Boston College attempts to thwart Penn State’s defensive unit and capture a Pinstripe Bowl victory.

CB Justin Simmons: 

It’s no secret that Penn State has struggled offensively all season, be it on the ground or through the air. John Donovan has gameplanned around some impressive opposing cornerbacks, and Saturday’s matchup require him to do the same. Simmons aces the eye test, coming in at 6-foot-3 and 198 pounds — relatively large for a cornerback. This incredible size and lankiness makes him tough to beat on the deep ball, which could pose an issue for Christian Hackenberg, who has struggled down the stretch. Simmons is a jack-of-all-trades in the Eagles’ secondary, if y0u will, having gained experience at multiple positions. He started off the season playing free safety, but made the switch to the outside after injuries gutted the team’s depth. Simmons’ experience at free safety gives him a valuable trait not often found in cornerbacks: supporting the run.

Not only is Simmons aggressive in run support, he has the statistics to boot. He led the team with 70 tackles, most of which came unassisted, while setting the tone for the team’s secondary. He also finished with two interceptions and five pass breakups, making him the full package, vital to the success of Boston College’s defense. It will be interesting to see how Hackenberg goes about the upcoming matchup, as his performance will dictate which way this game goes. Will he test Simmons early? Or shy away, leaving an entire third of the field out of play? Either way, expect Simmons to be firing on all cylinders, contributing in many ways as one of Boston College’s top defensive playmakers.

Key Matchup

This is shaping up to be a classic, Big Ten-style football game. The strength of BC’s offense is its rushing attack, which ranks 13th in the country at 251.8 yards per game. The Eagles are led by quarterback Tyler Murphy, who rushed for 1079 yards during the regular season. Running back Jon Hilliman led all running backs with 712 yards, and five backs tallied over 200 yards on the ground.

This high-powered attack will be going against the best rushing defense in the country. The Penn State defense gives up about 2.6 yards per carry, which is almost half of Boston College’s 5.1 yards per carry average, and only 84.8 yards per game on the ground. Only five opponents have gained over 100 yards rushing, against the Nittany Lions this year, but Penn State is only 2-3 in those five games.

BC’s rushing offense comes at the expense of its passing attack. The Eagles average just 132 yards through the air per game — good for 121st in the country. If Penn State can make the Eagles one-dimensional and force Murphy to try and win it with his arm, the Nittany Lions should have an easier time trying to pull it out.

Prediction 

If Penn State wants to capture its first bowl win since winning the Capital One Bowl on New Years Day in 2010, it will have to win the war up front. Tyler Murphy is one of the best rushers in the ACC, and he leads a Boston College rushing attack that gouged top teams (USC and Florida State) on the ground. Stopping the run has been a specialty for Bob Shoop’s top ranked defensive unit, and this matchup should be exciting to watch. The deciding factor for the Nittany Lions will be on the offensive side of the ball, specifically at the quarterback position. It’s no secret that Christian Hackenberg has struggled this season, but if Penn State aims to defeat the Eagles, it will need a solid performance from the sophomore quarterback. He does not need to be special, but needs to avoid turning the ball over and allow guys like DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis to make plays. Much like Penn State, Boston College features a stout defense that excels in stopping the run, making Hackenberg even more vital to the success of Penn State’s offense. Emotions will be running high, especially for the seniors, as it will be the last time they don the Blue and White. The atmosphere at Yankee Stadium will be vibrant, and the stage is set for something special. For Penn State, a program on the rebound, a victory would mean the world given all that has occurred in the past year. The task at hand will be difficult, but is not impossible, and the Lions should be able to pull out a close win.

About the Author

David Abruzzese

David is a senior from Rochester, NY, nestled right in beautiful Western New York. He is majoring in Broadcast Journalism, and as an avid sports fan, he passionately supports the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres. He is the first Penn Stater from his family, and couldn’t be prouder to represent Penn State University. In his free time, he likes to alpine ski, and play golf. You can follow him on Twitter @abruz11, and can contact him via email at [email protected]

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