Penn State Football

Penn State vs. Boston College: Who has the edge in the Pinstripe Bowl?

Penn State’s Mike Hull wraps up Temple’s Jahad Thomas on Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014.
Penn State’s Mike Hull wraps up Temple’s Jahad Thomas on Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014. CDT photo

Who has the position-by-position edge, Penn State or Boston College?

OFFENSIVE LINE

Talk about ideal. Boston College is loaded with experience and talent up front. All five of the Eagles’ offensive linemen — tackles Seth Betancourt and Ian Silberman, guards Bobby Vardaro and Aaron Kramer and center Andy Gallik — are fifth-year seniors and their experience has helped the Eagles immensely. Boston College is 14th in rushing offense among FBS teams and has put together two games of 400-plus rushing yards. The Eagles have protected well, too. They’ve allowed just 17 sacks. Meanwhile, Penn State’s offensive line is much better than it was earlier this season, although protection continues to be a problem. Right tackle Andrew Nelson has been a bright spot while Angelo Mangiro continues to play multiple roles. The return of guard Miles Dieffenbach has definitely helped a unit that has paved the way for just 104 yards per game. The Eagles, however, are averaging 252 rushing yards per game. Advantage: Boston College

QUARTERBACK

Christian Hackenberg has more than twice as many attempts (434) as Boston College’s Tyler Murphy (211). While Hackenberg hasn’t had near the success he did in his first season, he’s been asked to do much more with his arm for an offense that has been mostly one-dimensional without an effective running game. Murphy, meanwhile, is a big factor in the Eagles’ rushing game. He leads BC with 1,079 yards on 170 carries. He is much more likely to beat defenses with his legs than his arm, as he’s averaging just 127 yards per game. Hackenberg is still standing after being sacked more times (43) than any other Penn State quarterback in history, and he has played well in marquee games in the past. Advantage: Penn State

RUNNING BACKS

While Murphy has accounted for most of BC’s rushing attack, he’s had help. Jon Hilliman and Myles Willis chipped in 712 and 440 yards, respectively. Hilliman, a 6-foot, 215-pound freshman, leads the team with 12 touchdowns. He only needs two or three strides to get to full speed. In addition, Hilliman cuts well and finds alternate running lanes quickly when holes close. Willis is the team’s primary kick returner. Neither back is very active in the team’s passing game. Meanwhile, Akeel Lynch has emerged as Penn State’s top running back. His long-striding style has made him a threat to score from anywhere if he can pick up a few blocks. Bill Belton was banged up down the stretch and his health will determine how much he’ll be used. If Belton can’t go, Penn State will likely use Cole Chiappialle as Lynch’s backup. Advantage: Boston College

RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS

Consider that the Eagles ran the ball on 73 percent of their plays in the regular season before judging the team’s paltry receiving stats. Josh Bordner is BC’s top target. He’s caught 26 passes for 342 yards and three touchdowns. He’s a big, physical player too at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds. He’s joined on the outside by 6-foot-5, 237-pound Dan Crimmins, who’s caught 23 balls for 297 yards. Shakim Phillips is big, too. The 6-foot-3, 206-pound fifth-year senior has made the most of his snaps with three touchdowns. Sherman Alston can get lost in the shuffle at just 5-foot-6, but he’s dangerous in space. With so much size, BC has a nice collection of downfield blockers. Penn State will continue to use DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis as its top two options. They’ve combined for 123 catches but just two touchdowns. Jesse James continues to be Penn State’s top option at tight end and he leads the Nittany Lions with three touchdowns. Advantage: Penn State

DEFENSIVE LINE

Both teams have a lot of talent up front. Penn State’s starting four — ends Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan and tackles Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson — have set the tone in most games. In addition, Penn State’s as deep as any team on the defensive line. Parker Cothren, Tarow Barney, Carl Nassib and Brad Bars have also played well. Their combined success is a big reason Penn State leads the country in rush defense. Boston College’s starters — ends Brian Mihalik and Kevin Kavalec and tackles Truman Gutapfel and Connor Wujciak — have combined for 27 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks. Penn State’s starters have combined for 37 tackles for loss and 18 sacks. Advantage: Penn State

LINEBACKERS

Penn State, which had avoided injury issues for the most part to its linebackers all season, was without Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda in the regular season finale against Michigan State. As a result, Gary Wooten got his most extended playing time yet and could be in line for the same workload if Bell and Cabinda can’t go. But both have had plenty of time to rest up, however, and could rejoin the lineup. Mike Hull and Nyeem Wartman have been great all season. If Bell is back, he and Hull will form a blitz-happy duo that has helped generate even more pressure on offenses. Boston College also generates pressure with its linebackers. Outside backer Josh Keyes leads the Eagles with four sacks while the stout, 257-pound Steven Daniels leads the BC linebacking corps with 68 tackles. Advantage: Penn State

DEFENSIVE BACKS

The Nittany Lions have made use of plenty of defensive backs this season. In addition to stalwarts Jordan Lucas and Adrian Amos, Trevor Williams has emerged as a solid player for Penn State. Meanwhile, youngsters Grant Haley and Marcus Allen have been superb while Christian Campbell and Troy Apke have also been in the mix. Jesse Della Valle flies under the radar but is capable of making big plays. The Eagles are led by senior corner Manuel Asprilla whose four career interceptions leads the team. Safeties Dominique Williams and Justin Simmons are also very physical defenders. Boston College’s secondary has allowed twice as many (18) touchdowns as Penn State and is giving up 218 passing yards per game. Advantage: Penn State

SPECIAL TEAMS

Sam Ficken is coming off a rough game where he went 1-for-2 on field goals and was shaky with a short kickoff to open the Michigan State game. Overall, however, he’s been quite good this season and is 23-for-28. Boston College has used three different kickers, with Alex Howell being their primary kicker. He hasn’t made a kick since Nov. 1 and is just 5-for-11 on the season. Meanwhile, Mike Knoll seems to have earned more chances and is 1-for-2 over the last two games. Howell is the team’s punter and is averaging 43 yards per punt, with more than a third of his punts inside opponents’ 20-yard lines. Penn State’s Daniel Pasquariello had his best game of the season, averaging 40 yards per punt against the Spartans. The Eagles have a slight edge on returns. Advantage: Boston College

INTANGIBLES

Boston College has the experience edge with more upperclassmen (16) in its lineup compared to Penn State’s 12. In addition, the Eagles will likely send eight fifth-year seniors into action while Penn State has two among its projected starters. Here’s a stat that jumps out — the Eagles have committed just 49 penalties for 401 yards this season. Penn State has committed 65. Advantage: Boston College

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