Penn State’s primary goal in the Pinstripe Bowl will simply be to break out of its season-long rut any way possible.
Is that asking too much after a month to work on things? Well …
Because, win or lose, most every one of the Nittany Lions’ games this season followed a similar script: settle in and play tough, elite defense; fail to protect their quarterback; commit a flurry of offensive mistakes; and punctuate it all with a grab bag of results on special teams.
We all saw what that got them to New York City. They lost as many as they won and now have a date Saturday afternoon with Boston College.
And with continued depth issues and several high-quality talents still redshirting, we could easily see things playing out the same way as before in Yankee Stadium.
Yet another low-scoring defeat with all kinds of close calls and what-could-have-beens?
At least, here are five keys to the Lion snapping out of their funk … just enough … to secure a winning season:
1. Spread it around Everyone knows the abilities of reliable pass-catcher DaeSean Hamilton. He’s not a deep threat, but he’s consistently productive on bubble screens and all kinds of intermediate routes. But the Lions’ offense needs to get the other wideouts involved early and often. If Geno Lewis isn’t getting separation, than one of the kids must step up in a big way. We’re talking about Chris Godwin, Saeed Blacknall and Mike Gesicki. Time to grow up.
2. Make a final stand There were plenty of positive vibes when offensive linemen Donovan Smith and Miles Dieffenbach both returned from short- and long-term injury situations in the second half. But the expected change in production didn’t materialize. This will be Dieffenbach’s last college game at left guard. Could it be Smith’s last time, too, in a Penn State uniform? No matter, it is a final chance for a concerted, breakout effort from the left side of the line to help the running game … and Christian Hackenberg.
3. Game-changers. The defense has played well throughout, especially with so many youngsters, such as safety Marcus Allen and linebackers Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda. Now, it would really help, first off, if those linebackers were healthy. Even more important is to produce a few difference-making plays early on. Coordinator Bob Shoop predicted Allen’s first collegiate interception. They just need more than just tackle Anthony Zettel to get it done.
4. Marked man He’s not only Boston College’s best player, he truly is their offense. Meet running quarterback Tyler Murphy. The BC offense, with its erratic point-scoring, goes as does their fifth-year senior leader. Penn State’s defense has struggled at times with mobile quarterbacks (Central Florida, Indiana, Ohio State in overtime). And it might be a bit of a shock at first to be running after Murphy, after a month layoff. But holding him down and making him throw is the goal. Mike Hull in pursuit for four quarters? Should be some compelling viewing.
5. In need of a lift So the Lions can’t put the kind of athletes on special teams yet that they want because of depth issues. And they still are breaking in a new punter. And yet, for once, getting a lift here from someone other than Sam Ficken, could make things exponentially easier on everyone else. Can anyone block a punt? Come close to it? At the very least, the Lions can’t afford to crawl out of the kind of hole they made for themselves against Michigan State.