It Took a Year, But Penn State’s O-Line Aids in Pinstripe Victory

James Franklin said on Friday that Penn State’s offensive line was the most improved unit of pre-bowl practices.

He wasn’t lying.

After failing to protect Christian Hackenberg throughout the year, en route to allowing over 40 sacks, a Penn State record, the Nittany Lions’ front five consistently provided the space and time the sophomore quarterback needed to break Penn State records of a different kind: school bowl game marks of 371 passing yards and 34 completions, to go along with four touchdowns.

And even when Miles Dieffenbach, its senior captain that has battled torn ACL rehab this season, was carted off the field and didn’t return, it didn’t waver. It took the better part of a season, but Penn State’s offensive line played a crucial role in securing the Pinstripe Bowl victory.

“I thought our unit communicated awesomely, [Boston College] did a lot of things unconventionally,” said junior center Angelo Mangiro. “Me and Christian were on the same page, we played well.”

Sure, there were hiccups. Mangiro’s poor snap to Hackenberg in the third quarter just outside of the red zone resulted in a turnover, and Hackenberg still faced heat from the blind side several times. “Sometimes those things happen,” Mangiro said of the fumble. “Activating the ball is the most important thing.”

When Dieffenbach went down, inexperienced sophomore Derek Dowrey was forced to take over at guard. A year ago, Dowrey was a defensive lineman. Saturday, he was tasked with protecting Hackenberg against a defense that Franklin said likes to bring “chaos” on every play in a sold-out Yankee Stadium.

“Boston college wasn’t going to show any mercy when Miles went down, its next guy up mentality,” said Mangiro. “It hurt. He’s a good friend of mine and its his last college game.”

Boston College didn’t let up. But without Dieffenbach, Penn State scored on four of its next five possessions after the fumble. “It’s great to send Miles off on a winning record,” said Mangiro. “He’s our captain.”

And on a game-tying drive that went eight plays for 49 yards, the offensive line didn’t allow one play to go for a loss of yards.

Mangiro said the offensive line was extremely confident heading into Saturday’s game, in large part due to the trust it had both in its coaches and game plan. “I liked our game plan when we put it in two weeks ago,” said Mangiro. “As a player you get really excited, you can feel if the game plan is really good.”

More specifically, coach Herb Hand and his front five hoped to confuse the Eagles’ defense by changing up the tempo, said Mangiro. Where the front five lacked in speed and size, it could make up for in quick execution that tricked the opponent. “We wanted to get them at a personnel grouping that we liked,” he said.

Evidently, it worked.

 

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Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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