I’ll Take Manhattan… (but the Nittany Lions get da Bronx!)
As we count down to kickoff for the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl, I thought it would be good to get the game preview and prediction out of the way early in the week, as everybody will be pretty busy from Wednesday on forward. So, here we go with my take on the first bowl game for Penn State since the NCAA levied its draconian sanctions of 2012, as Penn State (6-6, 2-6 Big Ten) squares off against Boston College (7-5, 4-4 ACC) in Yankee Stadium on Saturday.
The Nittany Lions, as you know, finished the season on a down note, losing to Illinois and #10 Moo U. On the other hand, Boston College’s final two games of the season were a three-point loss to #3 Florida State and a blowout 28-7 win over Syracuse.
BC dominated the Syracuse game with a balanced attack that rang up nineteen first downs against the Orangemen’s eight and dominated time of possession, holding onto the ball for over thirty-eight minutes. In that game, Tyler Murphy was 13-17 passing for 160 yards and a touchdown. Leading receivers were senior Josh Bordner and tiny freshman Sherman Alston who at 5-6, 163 has to be the smallest guy on the field. For a change, Murphy was not the rushing leader, handing the ball to sophomore Tyler Rouse nine times for 59 yards and a touchdown and freshman bowling ball Marcus Outlow eleven times for 31 yards. Syracuse clearly keyed on Murphy, holding him to 20 rushing yards on eleven attempts, his lowest production of the year by far. Nevertheless, Murphy was able to break the Boston College quarterback rushing record for a single season with 1,079 yards. One final highlight worth noting is Myles Willis‘ opening 95-yard opening kickoff return for a touchdown. Ouch!
Penn State hasn’t taken the field against Boston College since [cue ominously lugubrious cello] The Dark Years, at the height of the “Joe Must Go” movement. At that ill-fated meeting in 2004, PSU quarterback Zach Mills was intercepted four times, paving the way to a 21-7 drubbing at the behest of the Eagles. The Nittany Lions lead the all-time series, 19-4, but BC has emerged victorious in the most recent three meetings.
Boston College Offense
Offensively, we’ve already covered quarterback Tyler Murphy and the Boston College offensive line — graduate students, all of them! This super-experienced group will undoubtedly be a handful, even for Penn State’s vaunted defense. But the experience begins and ends with Murphy and the O-Line, raising questions about the multidimensionality of the BC offense.
Boston College head coach Steve Addazio has shown that he is a competent and extremely energetic field general, making do with what he has. He lost most of his skill position players to graduation last year, most notably Doak Walker Award winning running back Andre Williams. His best move was bringing in Murphy from Florida, and additionally, he has shown the ability to adapt the offense to his team’s strengths and weaknesses. He de-emphasized the passing game, reorienting the offense to the run, particularly Murphy’s 1000-yard rushing from the quarterback position.
This is the type of mobile quarterback that can challenge any defense, even Penn State’s. We should expect to see a lot of Murphy’s feet, along with some short passes mainly to grad student Josh Bordner and junior Dan Crimmins, potentially huge mismatches at 6-4, 230, and 6-5, 237, respectively. Freshman running back Jon Hilliman will be there to keep the defense honest. He’s a pile-driver who scored 12 touchdowns on his big feet this year.
The Eagles don’t throw many passes — only 223 all season — which limits the potential for interceptions. (Depending on who you listen to, either Texas Longhorn coaching legend Darrel Royal or Ohio State Buckeye coaching legend Woody Hayes wrote the original position paper on passing: “When you throw the ball, three things can happen and two of them ain’t good.” But it was The Nittany Turkey who once said, “Play within your abilities and don’t try shit you can’t do.” He was thinking of Penn State’s running game at the time. But I digress.) Aside from interceptions, they don’t turn the ball over much. Tied for 10th in the NCAA with only three fumbles and a not-too-swift 10 INTs, they also wound up the season with a better net turnover margin than the Nittany Lions, with a -1 overall for 2014.
Boston College Defense
With 18 returning defensive lettermen, the defense is pretty stable. That shows up in the stats, with Boston College ranked 4th in the NCAA against the run, and 19th in scoring defense. On the passing side, they’re way down at 74th in pass efficiency defense, but they’re 33rd in sacks administered. Overall, the Eagles rank just beneath #1 Alabama at 12th in total defense. allowing an average of just over five yards per play.
So, given that Penn State is incompetent at the run, the offensive game plan for the Nittany Lions will undoubtedly unleash Christian Hackenberg against a deficient Boston College secondary. Good God, one would think that if this wasn’t the time, then when would it be? The Eagles have intercepted only nine passes all year, and had only 86 yards and no TDs to show for it. Go Hack! Of course, the incompetent offensive line, with its easily kicked around Five Traffic Cones, must do its job pass protectin’, which ain’t as hard as run blockin’, so maybe, just maybe, they can provide Hack with enough time to complete some passes — that is, if Hack has figured out how to throw the ball where his receivers can catch it, and if his receivers have figured out how to get open. But beware! The BC front six or seven are a pretty competent bunch, responsible for 31 sacks this year. It is this turkey’s hope that we will not see Sackenberg on his back more than two or three times.
If James Franklin, John Donovan, and the Penn State offensive (truly!) brain trust have not yet figured out that this year’s rushing offense doesn’t “bring it”, then there’s no hope for them, ever. We’ve seen them stubbornly attempting to “establish the run” against good defenses, only to get their asses handed to them. In this case, with the fourth ranked defense against the run, what do you think they’ll do? St. Joe would cockily run right at their strength, but most of the time he had a team that could play ball.
Nothing Special About Special Teams
Yeah, I don’t think anyone is paying the ticket price to watch these two incompetent punting units display their putridity, but we must consider relative suckage here. Boston College ranks 51st in net punting yards, while Penn State ranks — get this — 103rd. There are bound to be a lot of punts in this game, given that both defenses are pretty good.
Alex Howell does the punting for the Eagles, and he’s not too shabby, with a 42.9 yard average. Alas, his coverage unit bites the big one, leading to that middle-of-the-pack net yardage ranking.
Fortunately for Penn State’s block-prone kicking unit (with five kicks having been blocked this year), Boston College has blocked but a single field goal try all year. Thank God for that, because we’re probably looking at Sam Ficken’s foot as the primary weapon for this offense yet again.
Fieldgoalwise, Boston College has had three place kickers during the season. Addazio decided in October that true freshman Mike Knoll would replace the duo of Alex Howell and Joey Launceford after Howell went 3-7 and Launceford missed two extra points. The Eagles have had three kicks blocked during the 2014 campaign, none of which were attributable to Knoll, who went 2-3 in field goals and 10-11 in extra points.
By the way, inasmuch as we can count on having at least one kickoff per side in this game, it is worthy of note that Boston College ranks 19th in kickoff return defense, allowing only 18.14 yards per return, whereas the Nittany Lions rank 116th out of 125 teams, allowing an average of 24.72 yards per return, one of which was for a touchdown. The same mismatch is evident in kickoff returns, where BC is ranked 9th, averaging 24.55 yards per return and the sad sack Lions are 63rd with 20.84.
And so, sadly, I’ll give the Official Nittany Turkey Lesser Special Teams Suckage Award (LSTSA) to Boston College, already, even.
Whattya want in Decemba in N’Yawk, good wedda? Fuggedaboudit!! I got yer good wedda right here! Hey, this turkey remembers well the snow-covered streets of Manhattan with the buses kicking up brown slush all over my worsted wool suits from Barney’s. That sucked, man. And in 1969, the streets of Queens never got plowed after a blizzard, so they were impassable for two weeks thanks to that asshole Mayor John V. Lindsay — he was almost as bad as the present douche bag mayor of da City. (Trivia Question: Do you know what the “V” stands for in Lindsay’s name? It is Vliet. WTF???? But I digress.) When I lived in Fun City I didn’t spend much time in the Bronx, other than Yankee Stadium and City Island on occasion, so I can’t account for the weather there from personal experience. Just kidding. It’s the same as Manhattan and Queens, just smellier, but I digress.
Actually, if we’re to believe Joel Myers and AccuWeather, Saturday looks like a pretty nice early winter day in da Bronx. After a sunny Friday, there’ll be a few clouds with a high temperature of 52ºF and a low of 39ºF. That’s quite a break from what’s expected this week, which is rain, sometimes heavy, between now and Christmas. If the forecast holds for Saturday, the weather shouldn’t have any effect on either team, assuming that the highly competent union grounds crew at Yankee Stadium does their job as expected. (If Lindsay were still mayor, they’d be on strike at this point.)
Da Broardcast Crew (that’s how they’s say it in Boston)
We are delighted to announce that the broadcast crew for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl will include a Penn Stater. The TV crew will be Bob Wischusen, Matt Millen (PSU ’80), and sideline blonde Quint Kessenich. The game will be carried on ESPN.
You might or might not recall the interview with Millen in which he said people need to take a “chill pill” on Christian Hackenberg, but if you didn’t, check out this Morning Call article.
Cocktail of the Week
This week’s cocktail will be the Bronx Bomber, a Depression Era concoction involving Plymouth Gin, sweet and dry vermouth, along with orange and lemon juice. Doesn’t that make you want to come join us in The Cave and enjoy our company, our booze, and our steaks? I thought so, anyway.
Distinguished Alumnus of the Week
“Live Long and Prosper”
Oh, how tempting it would have been to feature two polar opposites from the political spectrum, dovish Secretary of State John Kerry and hawkish National Rifle Association Executive Director Wayne LaPierre, both Boston College alumni. Because I’d have to make fun of both of them and in doing so might lose a few friends of either persuasion, I decided to keep it non-political and of universal appeal. This week’s star is from another planet in that aforementioned universe, Vulcan, to be precise, and his name is Leonard Nimoy, better known as Mr. Spock.
Pictured here with his parents, a miscegenative Vulcan-Human combo, Lt. Cmdr. Spock had a sparkling career with Starfleet, serving as right-hand Vulcan and science officer to Captain James Tiberius Kirk, commanding officer of the Starship Enterprise. His logical perspective often counterbalanced the emotional and paternalistic Dr. “Bones” McCoy, who usually took the backseat while competing for Kirk’s ear. In return for that, Spock incurred many sneers from McCoy, who frequently muttered petty, puerile complaints about Spock’s green blood. In the end, it turned out to be a love-hate relationship that was richly complex.
In 1975, Nimoy wrote a book titled “I Am Not Spock.” Oh yeah? To most of us, he was, is, and always will be Mr. Spock! Methinks that the Vulcan doth protest too much, verily.
Spock, now in his 85th year and long retired from Starfleet recently enjoyed Leonard Nimoy Day, resulting from a proclamation by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and occurring on November 14, 2009.
Nimoy revealed in 2014 that he had been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). On Twitter, he said: “I quit smoking 30 yrs ago. Not soon enough. I have COPD. Grandpa says, quit now!! LLAP*
Ready for My Pick? (You Better Be!)
So, here we are at the last Official Turkey Poop Prediction for the 2014 season. It’s been a crappy year for your old Turkey, who has gone 8-4 straight up, 5-7 against the spread, and 5-7 on the over/under. I would suggest some career other than gambling on college football games, particularly when Penn State is involved.
Penn State is the “home team” for the purposes of whatever has to have a home team, and they’re likely to have a home team advantage due to the potential for a lot of close-by Lions fans living in boring Pennsylvania wanting to spend an exciting weekend in N’Yawk (if di Blasio hasn’t ruined it by that time), at some point cheering their Nittany lads on to victory… or not! I’ll tell you that in two of three bowl pick cards I’m holding, I picked PSU to win. See? I still have a heart that bleeds blue and white, or pink and black, maybe. Definitely not green like Spock! But I digress.
The betting houses have established the spread at the time I’m writing this to favor Boston College by 2.5, and they’ve set the over/under at 40. What? They don’t think there will be much scoring? Blasphemy! On what could they possibly be basing that? I don’t know, but based on my crappy record, I’m going to pull one straight out of my ass. After all, what the hell do I have to lose? With Hackenberg unleashed (being intercepted once and missing a half-dozen easy throws) and the 15 extra practices making men out of meat and rocks out of traffic cones, the Nittany Lions finally pull one out, edging the Eagles 16-14. Take the under! LLAP!*
Happy Holidays to Mah Peeps!
As we enter the last day of Hanukkah and with Christmas right around the corner, we here at The Nittany Turkey want to wish all our faithful readers the very best of the holiday season and a very healthy, prosperous, and happy new year! LLAP!*
*Live Long and Prosper