Needless to say, like most BC fans, I stewed on the ride home about the final result. Actually it started the second that the PAT was missed, but really kicked in (no pun intended and folks, seriously, be Christian about it please) waiting for my car in the parking lot on River Avenue (think sliding puzzle meets demolition derby). But although I told the Penn State fan sitting next to me if it came down to the kicking game, which was pretty likely seeing how evenly matched the two teams were, Penn State would win and of course that is what happened, I think we all need to take a deep breath and look past the kicking game to digest the totality of what happened.
Offensively, BC was as vanilla as I have seen them all year, but the results in general were pretty solid against what was statistically the nation's best defense. BC hit several big plays in the run game for touchdowns, so although the consistency of the run games at times was lacking, the big plays made up for it. The formation shift bringing the extra tackle over keyed the Jon Hilliman touchdown run and was something that caught Penn State off guard.
Clearly, the passing game was problematic for the majority of the game. Murphy missed two scoring opportunities to Shakim Phillips and to Josh Bordner, on throws that should have been simple. To his credit, down the stretch and in the overtime, he made several fabulous throws and the one to David Dudeck was similar to a couple of the darts Hackenberg made for Penn State. Have to give it to Dudeck: great catch, tough, tough run. There's a kid who probably shouldn't be playing FBS level football who just toughs it out and does whatever is asked of him. True Dude.
I thought the screen pass to Marcus Outlow on 3rd and a mile in the fourth quarter was a nice call, something we should have seen more of during the season and hopefully with Outlow's time increasing next year, we will.
On the negative offensively, I really thought BC would be more creative. A bowl game is a chance to open it up and show more wrinkles that an average game. They had a month to prepare and essentially it was the same old, same old. Now I am not saying I wanted Murphy throwing it more often, but find ways to get your play makers the ball...in particular Sherm Alston, since you don't have many, if any others. Alston had virtually no touches in the game other than the punt return, the one middle screen and the middle screen he dropped. No fly sweeps, no reverses, no repeat of the quick huddle wheel route...nothing creative. We had seen something like that in every game this season, where was that on Saturday?
Defensively, I think we need to start by looking at the Penn State offense. The Lions don't have a ton of players because of the scholarship limitations, but the ones they have are still pretty damn good. As we brought up earlier in the week, there were 30 total players on the rosters who were recruited by both BC and Penn State. Penn State wound up with 29 of them. They have a more talented roster overall than BC, just not the depth of roster and Saturday, in Christian Hackenberg, they had the best player on the field. Yes, he had the two turnovers, but he avoided the big mistake with 0 interceptions and had the 4 TDs and the huge yardage numbers—all of which set Penn State bowl records, not to mention Pinstripe Bowl records. Outside a few head-scratching moments when he missed wide open receivers, his ball placement was incredibly precise and his arm strength to fit balls into tight coverage the few times it was required including the game tying touchdown pass, which looked to be intercepted by Ty-Meer Brown, was amazing.
Remember, Penn State spent most of their night running wide receiver screens and outs to the WIDE side of the field. Hackenberg made throws Tom Brady doesn't have to make on Sundays because of the wider hash marks and made it look easy.
So now, to the BC defense. More so than a lot of teams, the BC D needs to play as a unit. The secondary is not talented enough to cover for extended periods of time; they get very little assistance in coverage from the linebackers and therefore need the D line and linebackers to get pressure. Well, the latter never really materialized. A couple of sacks, but for the most part, Hackenberg stood in there like a statue and fired away. The line held up well against the rush outside the one Akeel Lynch TD run, which was just abysmal tackling all around, but even with blitzing corners and linebackers, they couldn't get home.
That just exposed a unit that was picked by Phil Steele as the worst secondary in the ACC and was a huge concern I had coming into the season. The bigger, faster and more talented Penn State players simply made plays. It became mano-a-mano and outside of a couple of plays, all were won by PSU receivers.
If you want to pick on Knoll, OK, fine go ahead. The kick prevented the game from going to a second overtime, but it didn't, by itself, lose the game for BC. Football, like most sports is never a one play deal. A lot needed to go into this to get to the point where one very obvious play sticks out like that.
Watch the replay of the PAT. Remember, it's a three-person operation (snapper, holder and kicker). The snap is perfect, but Tyler Murphy's hold is questionable at best. A finger on top is usually the only holder point of contact, with the laces turned forward. You can't see the laces, but Murphy's whole hand looks to be on top of the ball, which could definitely enhance a pull.
The coaching evaluation is very interesting and maybe says less about what Don Brown, Ryan Day and Steve Addazio did yesterday than what James Franklin did for the entire Penn State season. The BC coaching staff plays most weeks with one arm tied behind their back. This team simply isn't very talented. Although we can go ahead and find fault...
– Don Brown: cushion on the week side, well shoot, he played press coverage and that didn't work. Maybe the thing he should have tried was dropping 8 into coverage.
– Ryan Day: where was Sherm Alston and where was more read option? Not exactly worried about saving Tyler Murphy for the future.
– Steve Addazio: was BC really ready to play and what would a game be without at least one small clock management issue? Penn State had the more talented team.
If I am a Penn State fan, I am asking myself, where was this all season? You've got the #1 rated QB in the country coming out of high school, a college freshman all american, the #1 pick in the 2016 NFL draft according to Trent Dilfer just this morning on SportsCenter and he struggles like he did most of the year? Penn State turned much more run than pass as the season went on and although Hackenberg put it up more than 40 times in a game a bunch, it was more by necessity (being down) than design (run until you get down). Think about having Tyler Murphy try to throw the whole season rather than run and ask yourself what BC would have for a record?
The kid is a stud. He's not NFL ready mentally, but physically, are you kidding? The PSU offensive game plan was perfect. During the time off between the end of the season and the bowl game they cleaned up Hackenberg's game and then played to those strengths against a clear BC weakness that not every team has the personnel to exploit so effectively.
Also, Franklin's decision to use his time outs on the final BC drive of regulation was genius. BC could have gotten a first down inside the 1, but the likelihood was that BC was getting only those four downs to score and not a play more. Calling those time outs with the clock in excess of three minutes made all the difference to the drive leading to the Ficken tying FG.
I didn't think much of Franklin as a game day coach based on the results this year, but he was spot on yesterday. Penn State threw for the 9th most yards ever in a game against BC as well as the 7th most completions. That from a team that came in the 72nd ranked passing offense in the country along with the 114th ranked total offense, so their staff finally figured out how to optimize their talent.
The toughest thing was watching BC cough up a 14-point lead. BC took that 21-7 lead with just 2:12 left in the third quarter. You got the feeling that they were one stop away from putting it away and as we know, they couldn't. That was the second time this year, after the Colorado State game, where BC had a lead of that size at any point in the game and couldn't seal the deal. We all think that comebacks are fairly routine in college football, but that just isn't the case. BC has lost games where they lead by 14 or more points after essentially three quarters just twice in program history. Granted, this was the last play of the third quarter, but it still illustrates the case.
The atmosphere yesterday was really good, although it was sobering to see what was probably a 70/30 (or worse) Penn State/BC split for attendance. I had hoped that with all the alums in the area (of course Penn State has tens of thousands there too), it might balance out better. The Penn State fans were classy as usual. I have always had great times during trips there and do wish the rivalry had a way to continue on a more regular basis, but such is the way of college football in the new millenium.
I really believed Saturday's game meant more to Boston College than it did to Penn State. The Eagles are one year further along their rebuilding project than the Nittany Lions and that next step was to secure a bowl win. That they didn't get that win and the way it all went down was a dagger to the heart, but for many, including myself, I never expected them to be here this year anyway.
On to 2015. Go Eagles!