Three things to watch between Boston College and Penn State in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, which kicks off 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Saturday:
Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy vs. Penn State's rush defense: The Eagles' dual-threat quarterback boasts more rushing carries than pass completions this season, and he is the X-factor of this offense. He leads Boston College in rushing (1,079 yards) and heads a team that is ranked No. 13 nationally in rushing yards per game.
That is good news and bad news for Penn State. On one hand, the Nittany Lions boast the top-ranked rush defense in the country -- and only four teams in the FBS have thrown for fewer yards per game than BC. On the other hand, Penn State really hasn’t had to deal with a running quarterback of Murphy's caliber often this season. Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett found some success against PSU and rushed for 75 yards and two touchdowns, so it can be done. But Murphy is no Barrett. If Murphy can run on this team, it’s difficult envisioning a Penn State win. If he can’t? Chalk up another personal victory for PSU defensive coordinator Bob Shoop.
Can Penn State generate any kind of offense? During the Big Ten season, the Lions were unable to once score 20 points in regulation. And that includes games against defenses such as Indiana (No. 100 scoring defense) and Illinois (No. 107). The Lions haven’t even been able to generate multiple touchdowns in four of their past five games.
The patchwork offensive line is the big reason for that, but it’s not going to get any easier against Boston College. Statistically, the Eagles will be the third-best defense Penn State has faced all season. (Michigan State and Michigan are the other two; BC is No. 12 in total defense.) PSU has struggled in finding the big offensive plays this season; Boston College has done pretty well in limiting them.
Two freshman offensive standouts: There are obviously a few strong vets with NFL futures -- like Penn State linebacker Mike Hull -- who are worth watching. But each team also has a great rookie with a bright future that’s worth keeping an eye on.
Boston College running back Jon Hilliman made third-team All-ACC and is second on his team with 712 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was instrumental in the Eagles’ upset win against USC, as he finished with 89 yards and two scores. Penn State’s lone bright spot on offense has also come from a freshman, in second-team All-B1G wideout DaeSean Hamilton. The Virginia native set Penn State freshman records for catches (75) and receiving yards (848) this season, and he’s been the primary weapon of quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Hamilton is a redshirt freshman, and Hilliman is a true freshman.