Staff Predictions: Pinstripe Bowl

Penn State and Boston College meet Saturday at Yankee Stadium for the Pinstripe Bowl. Following a week of parading around New York City, Penn State’s nation-leading rush-defense will attempt to stop Boston College’s rushing attack, ranked No. 14 nationally and spearheaded by dual-threat quarterback Tyler Murphy.

Here’s how our staff thinks Penn State will fare:

David Abruzzese (season record: 7-5): Penn State 10, Boston College 7

If you’re a fan of old-school, hard-nosed football, you’re in luck. Penn State’s stout rushing defense meets Boston College’s high octane rushing attack, and it’s sure to be a battle to the bitter end.

Now, you’ll notice that the score is relatively low, and there’s a reason for that. Quite frankly, I just can’t picture Penn State’s stagnant offense putting up many points against Steve Addazio’s feisty unit, one that held Jameis Winston and Florida State to 20 points. Christian Hackenberg has struggled throughout the year, and don’t expect too much to change in this one. The key to victory for Penn State will be a balanced offensive gameplan, and a well managed game by Hackenberg. Expect Akeel Lynch to have a solid day on the ground, as he looks to end a successful sophomore campaign on a high note.

Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy is pretty good at running the football, and if you don’t know his name yet, you will come kickoff. Where he succeeds on the ground, he struggles somewhat through the air. Containing a player who set ACC rushing records for a quarterback should be priority number one for defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, and if his unit can do that, Penn State should be able to keep the Eagles from doing much damage. It’s worth noting that where Murphy excels on the ground, he struggles through the air. His passing numbers were modest, and he has been interception prone at times throughout the year, a weakness that Penn State’s young secondary should expose.

Tim Gilbert (season record: 8-3): Boston College 17, Penn State 13

I thought that with a little time away from school, my faith in these 2014 Nittany Lions would be restored enough that I could get excited for the Pinstripe Bowl like it wasn’t just an exhibition game. Alas. Despite some favorable matchups on Penn State’s side of the ball, a below-.500 record is simply too befitting of this team to predict it won’t happen. But hey, have you seen how easy that 2015 schedule is?

CJ Doon (season record: 7-2): Penn State 20, Boston College 17

Much like the rest of the Big Ten, Penn State is an underdog heading into the Pinstripe Bowl. In fact, the conference is a collective -59.5 point underdog, beginning with Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech and Rutgers vs. North Carolina on Friday.

However, of all the team’s in the conference, Penn State has one of the best chances to pull off the upset. The defense has been stellar all season, highlighted by the strength of their rush defense, anchored by tackling machine Mike Hull. The Nittany Lions ended the year ranked first(!) in the country in rushing defense, limiting opponents to 84.8 yards per game and 2.6 yards per rush.

Penn State’s strong front seven will be put to the ultimate test, as Boston College boasts one of the best rushing attacks in the country. The Eagles rank 14th in the country in rushing, amassing more than 250 yards per contest. Eagle’s quarterback Tyler Murphy is a true dual-threat, rushing for 1,079 yards and 10 touchdowns to go along with 1,526 yards passing and 11 touchdowns, while featured running back Jon Hilliman has pitched in 712 yards and 12 touchdowns.

With an extra 15 practices and a chance for a tired defense to earn some much-needed rest, Bob Shoop’s formidable unit should be able to keep the Eagles in check. Although Penn State has struggled in the past against running quarterbacks (i.e., J.T. Barrett in the fourth quarter and OT), the Lions have been exceptional at tackling opponents in space and limiting big plays. While it’s almost impossible to stop a running quarterback, Penn State should be able to limit the damage by maintaining gap control, playing their assignments, and keeping Murphy inside the pocket.

As far as the offense is concerned, the aforementioned practices should help the offensive line continue to gel. Toward the end of the season, Grantland’s “Worst Unit on an Otherwise Competent Team” started to improve, providing more time for Christian Hackenberg to throw and opening up running lanes for Akeel Lynch.

In a low-scoring affair, I think James Franklin improves to 3-0 as a a head coach in postseason play, as Penn State earns a win to begin the offseason on a high note.

Ben Berkman (season record: 7-5): Penn State 20, Boston College 14

Penn State’s had success limiting mobile quarterbacks this season. Boston College’s Tyler Murphy is a 1,000-yard passer and rusher, and will provide another test for Mike Hull and the rest of Penn State’s defense, one of the best in the nation.

Like the rest of the year, the Nittany Lions’ challenge will be putting points on the board. That’ll be no easy task: the Eagles allow a nation-best 20.5 points an outing. John Donovan told me earlier this week that Christian Hackenberg was feeling confident, and that his offense was ready to translate its practice into on-field points. We’ll see if that really happens.

A largely home crowd could give Penn State the boost it needs, though Penn State is .500 both at home and on the road this year.

Zack Rickens (season record: 5-4): Boston College 20, Penn State 10

I despise writing game predictions for this team. I love analyzing football teams and breaking down the game but there’s something about this year’s squad that makes it difficult to predict games. You just don’t know which team is going to show up. Are we going to see the all-out air assault from Hackenberg to Hamilton/Lewis? Or are we going to see the team that rushed the ball 28 times for three yards against a Massachusetts team that ended the season 3-9?

The matchup to keep an eye on here is, like everyone has said above, Penn State’s stout rushing defense against Tyler Murphy and the Eagles. Simply put, the Nittany Lions don’t allow teams to run the football. They wrapped up the year first in rushing defense, holding teams to 85 yards per game and 2.6 yards per attempt. On the other side of the ball, is BC’s X-Factor – Tyler Murphy. Murphy and the Eagles average more than 250 yards on the ground per game. Look for Murphy to air it out early to loosen up the defense, then hit the ground on an outside run.

If you love tough, in-the-trenches football like myself, this is the game to watch. If the Eagles go up early, I don’t see this Penn State offense playing catch-up, but who knows which squad will show up to Yankee Stadium.

Mike Reissma (season record: 7-5): Penn State 13, Boston College 12

I actually think that the odds are that BC will win this game, but going to Yankee Stadium and seeing Penn State lose would make me very sad so I’m not going to predict my own sadness. I do truly think this game will be close, and, of course, low scoring.

Is it likely that BC gets a safety? No. Is it likely that Penn State gives up a safety? The more I think about it the more I lean yes. Plus, a one-point win would be super cool.

In reality, I do see this defense stepping up like they’ve never stepped up before, and the offense looking significantly better than they have in the past, but not quite good enough to score more than 13 on a good defense. Go State, beat College.

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