The Penn State Nittany Lions will try to end their season with a winning record as they prepare to face Boston College in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 27 at 4:30 p.m. ET at Yankee Stadium.
This will be the 24th all-time meeting between the teams, with Penn State leading the series 19-4. The last time they met was on Sept. 11, 2004, when the Golden Eagles forced five Penn State turnovers, including four interceptions, en route to a 21-7 home victory at Alumni Stadium.
Penn State (6-6, 2-6) will make its 45th bowl game appearance in the program’s history, with its last coming in 2011, a 30-14 loss against the Houston Cougars in the TicketCity Bowl. The Lions’ 45th all-time bowl berth is tied for ninth in the nation.
Due to the NCAA-imposed sanctions on Penn State in 2012, which stemmed from the Sandusky Scandal, the Lions had been barred from postseason play for the past two years. The ban was originally supposed to last for four years, however, the Lions became qualified for a bowl game selection in September after the NCAA decided to lift its sanctions.
The Lions are led by first-year head coach James Franklin, who’s coaching in his fourth straight bowl game, the previous three appearances came as Vanderbilt’s head coach from 2011-13. Franklin owns a 2-1 all-time record in bowl games.
Penn State had a down year offensively. The Lions enter the matchup ranking sixth in the Big Ten in passing (221.9), and just 14th in scoring (19.8), rushing 103.6 and total yards (325.5). Sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg regressed compared to his outstanding freshman season, finishing the regular season ranked fifth in the Big Ten in passing yards per game (217.2). Hackenberg threw for eight touchdown passes but threw a whopping 15 interceptions.
His primary target through the air, redshirt freshman receiver DaeSean Hamilton, ended the season as an All-Big Ten Second Team selection, leading the team with 848 receiving yards. He was first in the conference with 6.2 receptions per game, while racking up 70.7 receiving yards per contest, good for fifth in the conference. Penn State used three running backs throughout the season, but junior Akeel Lynch emerged as the team leader in rushing yards with 603, and accumulated four rushing touchdowns. Senior Bill Belton had a team-high six rushing scores.
The Lions will take the field with one of the nation’s elite defenses, ranking first in the country in rushing defense (84.8), second in total defense (269.8), second in pass efficiency defense (99.71), sixth in third down conversion percentage defense (.301) and eighth in scoring defense (17.7). Senior linebacker Mike Hull, the Big Ten Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year, made a Big Ten-best 134 tackles. Hull ranked No. 7 in the nation with 11.2 tackles per game. He needs just four tackles to position himself in the top-5 in Penn State’s history in single season tackles. Hull was joined by junior defensive tackle Anthony Zettel on the All-Big Ten First Team. Zettel ranks third in the conference with 15.0 tackles for loss and is tied for fifth with 8.0 sacks.
Penn State senior kicker Sam Ficken earned second team All-Big Ten honors after he made 23 of his 28 field goal attempts (82.1) this season. His 23 makes led the conference. Senior punt returner Jesse Della Valle and freshman kick returner Grant Haley rank among the Big Ten’s top-10 standouts in punt and kickoff returns.
Boston College (7-5, 4-4) is led by second-year head coach Steve Addazio, who owns a 14-11 record in his first two seasons with the team. The Golden Eagles are appearing in their second straight bowl game with Addazio leading the way. Last season, the Golden Eagles fell to Arizona, 42-19, in the Advocare V100 Bowl.
The Eagles head into the game ranking second in the ACC in rushing (251.8), 10th in scoring (25.9) and total yards (383.8), and 14th in passing (132.0). The offense accumulated over 500 yards of total offense three times during the season, and over 400 yards twice more. Tyler Murphy, graduate quarterback, rushed for an ACC single-season rushing record 1,079 yards. He threw for 1526 yards, 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Josh Bordner is the team’s leading receiver, with 26 catches for 324 yards and three touchdowns.
BC’s rushing offense carried the load for the offense this season. Freshman running back Jon Hilliman has rushed for 12 touchdowns, tied for second in the ACC and tied for 10th on BC’s single-season list. Hilliman also broke the program’s freshman mark for most rushing attempts in a season with 185. The Golden Eagles rank 14th in the nation in rushing yards per game (251.8). They became just the second team since 2000 to rush for consecutive 400-yard games in a season. In an upset win over USC, the Eagles rushed for 452 yards before rushing for 413 yards against Maine the following week. In the team’s seven victories, they have outrushed their opponents, 2,115-284.
Much like Penn State, the Eagles’ defense has consistently been the better unit compared to offense and special teams. The defense ranks second in the ACC in rushing defense (95.5), third in scoring (20.5) and total yards allowed (313.5), and 10th in defending the pass (218.0). They have not allowed over 100 yards on the ground seven times in 2014. In three games, they held their opponent to 20 rushing yards or less. Penn State allowed a league-high 42 sacks this season, which is music to ears of an Eagles’ defense that racked up 31 sacks, ranking fifth in the ACC. Three players on the unit rank in the ACC’s top-50 with five tackles per game. Junior defensive back Justin Simmons ranks No. 30 in the nation with 5.8 tackles per contest, while junior linebacker Steven Daniels (5.7) and senior linebacker Josh Keyes (5.2) rank No. 32 and No. 44, respectively.
On special teams, BC has had three different kickers attempt field goals for them this season. Senior kicker Joey Launceford leads the group with 26 points, having gone 4-for-4 on field goal attempts and 14-for-18 on extra points.
*Section Photo credit to Gregory Shamus, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Matthew O’Haren, USA Today Sports