The Blitz was one of the most popular features at the old PSU Playbook, the grass-roots site which was a big part of the entities that united to create FightOnState.com back in 2004. Though the name of the site changed, we kept right on blitzing. The idea behind The Blitz? Former Playbook scribes (and current FOS staffers) Mark Harrington and Nirav Dalal provide a fans' eye breakdown of the upcoming game. They discuss and debate pertinent issues, matchups and injuries, and — of course — provide their predictions. They also take an overview of the entire weekend in college football. Like a pair of (undersized and very slow) outside linebackers, they pin back their ears and get after it. Sometimes they come through with big hits, other times they miss. But they always enjoy themselves.
MH: Unsurprisingly, it’s been a challenging year for Penn State football with a series of ups and downs. Yet the Nittany Lions are back bowling and looking to closeout 2014 on a positive note. Let’s take a look at how the Lions will wrap up James Franklin’s first season.
ND: Thanks to a resurgence of sanity at the NCAA office, the Lions are bowling. Penn State takes a trip to the home of legendary coach, Joe Paterno, to compete in its first bowl game since the NCAA sanctions were levied. Waiting for the Lions is a longtime eastern rival in Boston College. The Eagles very quietly had a solid season and almost knocked off defending national champion, Florida State.
Who: Boston College vs. Penn State
When: Saturday, December 27th at 4:30 pm ET, 1:30 pm PT
Where: Yankee Stadium in New York City
Series: Penn State leads 19-4
Line: Boston College favored by 2.5 points
MH: Let’s take a closer look at where the Nittany Lions stand heading into their season wrap up against BC.
LINE UP: The added bowl prep practices has allowed for the squad to get healthy and rested, but more importantly to take a step back and get some much needed work in, particularly the offensive line. While it was a series of ups and downs for the cobbled together line, the unit started to find success as the year progressed. The key with BC is being able to support a balanced attack and open up some consistent lanes for the backfield, which won’t be easy against this BC defensive front.
PASSING LANE: That brings us to Christian Hackenberg. To say the QB had a “sophomore slump” is probably and understatement. We can walk through a slew of factors, but in the end Hackenberg struggles were largely on himself. The bowl break is said to have been a positive for him, but the proof will be in his comfort level and consistency against the Eagle rush.
TRENCH WARFARE: The Lions will look once again to it’s front seven to set the tone for the game. The defensive line will have the challenge of BC QB Tyler Murphy and the read-option to work with. This means they need to play disciplined and with a focus on assignment football. The Big Ten’s premier linebacker, Mike Hull, and the ‘backer unit will be called upon to play containment as well.
SPECIAL REPORT: Special teams haven’t largely lived up to the unit’s designation this season. Aside from Sam Ficken’s kicking and some late stage putting improvement the ‘Nekton’ label has shown little ability to swim. If Penn State can even get a slight boost in coverage and returns it would be significant in the coveted battle of field position.
LOST PERSPECTIVE: Through all of this it’s important to keep perspective on where this program has come from. While many, many pundit and fan alike predicted around a decade before PSU would return to being even remotely competitive, the Lions have managed to put together the same or better record as Michigan, Tennessee, Miami, Texas, South Carolina and Pitt, with half as many scholarships, the second youngest team in the nation, a new staff and two essentially hands tied behind its back. Those aren’t excuses, they’re simply facts.
ND: In this section, I will review Boston College.
SOARING HIGH: After ascending to the main guy running the offense at the University of Florida, Steve Addazio took the head coaching job at Temple before landing as the head coach at Chestnut Hill. In his two seasons as the head coach, Addazio has amassed a 14-11 record. But, more importantly, this team is clearly playing the type of football that Addazio likes – ball control, sound, mistake-free football.
MIGRATING GATOR: After graduating from the University of Florida, QB Tyler Murphy moved to Boston College to be reunited with Steve Addazio. Murphy has the ability to throw but he is an excellent running QB in an excellent running offense. BC runs the read option and Murphy runs that offense very well. When he keeps the ball, he typically heads wide to get out into space. Once in space, he runs more like a WR than a QB.
CLIMBING AHEAD: One time Rutgers recruit, Jon Hillman had a sensational freshman year for Boston College. He is tied for 2nd in the ACC for rushing TDs and recently won the Eastern College Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year. Hillman is a physical back that is ideal for the between the tackles run in this option read offense. Much like Zach Zwinak, he doesn’t lose too many yards and won’t bust too many big runs. But, he’ll consistently get 4-5 yards per carry to keep drives pressing forward.
MIDDLE MEN: Boston College has one of the best defenses that nobody has heard of. Much of that recognition comes from the two DTs and the MLB. Truman Gutapfel and Connor Wujciak anchor the tackle positions on the defensive line. They both have good size and good strength. Their strength is getting up field on runs and consuming blocks. This allows Steven Daniels to get in the backfield to make plays. This is the reason that Boston College is fourth in rushing defense.
KICK IT: Despite having a very strong defense, Boston College is not very good at generating turnovers. With only 12 turnovers gained this season, they force teams into punting situation. Surprisingly, with 73 punts by their opponents, Boston College only has attempted 14 punt returns this year. Even Jesse Della Valle has more punt returns per punt than that.
KICK IT AGAIN: Boston College is really struggling in the kicking game. BC has gone through 3 kickers this season with a 11 out of 18 success rate. For kicks beyond 30 yards, BC has only converted 6 out of 13. Mike Knoll got most of the action down the stretch and will probably be the main kicker for BC in the bowl game but don’t be surprised to see a switch if Knoll struggles.
KEYS TO THE GAME
MH: I think a lot of this game comes down to bing smart with the ball for PSU; protecting it, first and foremost, but also distributing it to key weapons with high probability situations for success.
ND: Boston College is a team that grinds it out and with sustained long, slow drives. As a result, making the most of the possessions is really key in this game. Both defenses are going to control the game so the team that is able to convert on ideal field position will come out ahead.
MH:I don't suspect we'll see a high-octane offense in the bowl, but I expect to see an improvement with the added practice. On the other hand I think the defense comes on strong with a healthier, rested unit.
Penn State 20, Boston College 13
ND: Everybody is taking about the defenses but I think the real story is going to be the kicking game. Penn State will struggle to get the ball in the endzone but Ficken’s reliability will be the difference in this one.
Penn State 16, Boston College 14
Until next time,
Fight On State!
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