Want to know more about Penn State football? Well you came to the right place! We have Blackshoe Diaries here to talk the Pinstripe Bowl.
BC Interruption: How are Penn State fans feeling after their first year with James Franklin? What are your thoughts on his performance on the field and on the recruiting trail?
Black Shoe Diaries: James Franklin has been a polarizing figure to a fanbase especially prone to polarization. Most Penn State fans acknowledged that this was going to be a long, difficult rebuilding season, and don't want to judge Franklin on what will certainly be the worst roster of his tenure. On the other hand, others have (rightly) latched on to some of his failures of in-game strategy, and his loyalty to underperforming assistants as evidence that he's not all he's cracked up to be. But there's nobody who hasn't loved what he's done on the recruiting trail—and for a guy who builds such strong relationships, to do it so quickly is even more impressive. I come down somewhere in the middle: Franklin is a delegator, rather than a coach who imposes his own personality (a la Addazio), and that means he's only as good as his weakest delegee. In this case, it's offensive coordinator John Donovan, and if this offense doesn't take a leap forward next year, Franklin's going to be facing a very difficult decision.
BC Interruption: Christian Hackenberg was predicted to have a huge year in 2014, but fell far short of expectations. What happened and do you think his struggles can be fixed?
Black Shoe Diaries: Once again, there are a variety of opinions on Hackenberg—you'd be shocked to see how many fans were completely willing to give up on Hack and turn to the backups midway through the season. The sad part is, that wouldn't have been a completely indefensible decision, if only because somebody really needed to hit the reset button on him. Now, this season has been a terrible one for the passing game for a variety of reasons: first, the loss of QB whisperer Bill O'Brien (and even QB coach Charlie Fisher) and downgrade to John Donovan and Ricky Rahne would hurt anyone, but Hack, a pro-style passer who fit well in BOB's system is especially ill-suited for Donovan's quick-passing spread offense. He also lost his safety blanket, Allen Robinson, as Penn State broke in a young receiving corps. And, of course, the offensive line was an unmitigated disaster. The worst part of it all was that Hack seemed to get frustrated, lose composure, and had some mental breakdowns along the way. He's still an immensely talented player, and if the line can come around, and as the receiving corps continues to gel, working through this season has the potential to have been a really beneficial experience.
BC Interruption: Penn State's rushing defense will be the best the Eagles face all year. Who are some of the key contributors that Eagles fans should be watching for?
Black Shoe Diaries: Penn State's run defense starts up front: Austin Johnson is a space-eating nosetackle, and Anthony Zettel (who, by the way, hasn't been getting nearly enough accolades this awards season) is an undersized but insanely quick DT who will be a disruptive force in the backfield. If BC rushers can burst past those guys, the linebacking corps is very strong. It's led by Mike Hull, who isn't particularly flashy but has terrific instincts and is a sure tackler. You'll also see plenty of safety Marcus Allen attacking the line—he's a true freshman who stepped in midseason and has proven extremely promising.
BC Interruption: The Nittany Lions' offense has not been their strongest suit this year. Talk a little about some of the weapons that Franklin has at his disposal.
Black Shoe Diaries: It's really taken Penn State a disturbingly long time to identify some of its strongest assets. At running back, Akeel Lynch has been the strongest runner on the team all season, but his struggles in the passing game and in blocking left him glued to the bench for the first half of the season. Bill Belton will still see plenty of playing time, but Lynch is a much more natural runner and he'll get the bulk of the carries Saturday. At wideout, DaeSean Hamilton is the classic possession receiver, while Geno Lewis puzzingly went from #1 option to afterthought over the course of the season. Then there's the woefully underused trio of tight ends: Jesse James is a 6'7, 260-pound monster, while the smaller, quicker Kyle Carter and Mike Gesicki are (theoretically) matchup problems down the field who are mostly used to run 3-yard outs.
BC Interruption: BC fans are fired up about this game. Two classic smash mouth northeast programs, holiday weekend in New York. How are Penn State fans feeling about it?
Black Shoe Diaries: From an excitement standpoint, this has just been a weird year for Penn State. After a 4-0 start that coincided with the lifting of the bowl ban, it was hard not to get caught up in the hysteria that had some writers (I swear, I'm not making this up) calling us a Rose Bowl darkhorse. But man, the next eight games were just so ugly and messy and boring that if Penn State hadn't won two of them, not too many fans would be crying about missing a 13th game. That said, that matchup with Boston College, in the Pinstripe Bowl, was one of the most attractive options, among the low-end bowl games, and Penn State sold its bowl and student allotment in, like, 20 minutes. This should be a fun one.
BC Interruption: Prediction time, what have you got?
Black Shoe Diaries:The best thing about this game, for Penn State, may well have been the month off. As Penn State's offense continued its downward spiral throughout the regular season, it seemed that nothing was going to get better until the bowl game, until the Lions had a chance to just exhale, lick their wounds, and start over. The offense actually started the season fairly strongly—Hack had 1000 yards in the first three games—and the line started to get healthy for the first time by the end of the season. I think for those reasons, Penn State has the opportunity to surprise some people, and I really believe in Bob Shoop's defense. I'll say Penn State takes it, 23-17, in a game much less sloppy than most of ours down the stretch.
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