Pinstripe Bowl Game Grades

Opinion/Story posted December 28, 2014 in CommRadio, Sports by Tyler Zulli

Quarterback: B+

In the final game of the 2014 season, quarterback Christian Hackenberg played perhaps his most complete game. The Nittany Lions needed a big game from their big-time quarterback, and Hackenberg didn’t disappoint. The sophomore completed 34 of his 50 pass attempts while throwing for 371 yards on the afternoon. As if those numbers weren’t good enough, Hackenberg also added four touchdowns through the air, including one in overtime that tied the game at 30.

Hackenberg found Chris Godwin with a beautiful strike in the first quarter that resulted in a 72-yard strike to score the first points of the contest.  Hackbenberg, however, wasn’t perfect in this contest, and that’s the reason that his grade for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl is only a B+. He was somewhat inconsistent in the first half before really settling in towards the end. Despite making some NFL caliber throws, Hackenberg also made a few errant ones, including a tipped ball that lead to a Geno Lewis touchdown. All in all, Hackenberg was terrific in the final game of his sophomore season. I expect big strides for him in 2015.

Running Backs: B-

This contest certainly wasn’t a showcase of running backs for Penn State. While Boston College pounded the football on the ground, James Franklin and John Donovan chose to go through the air most of the day, resulting in a low production output from the running back core. Akeel Lynch was the bright spot for the running backs, as he picked up 75 yards on 17 carries, shouldering much of the load throughout the game. He did, however, rush from 35 on one carry, meaning that on his other 16, he rushed for just 40 yards. Bill Belton, on the other hand, was virtually nonexistent, as he received a very minimal work-load in the run game. Rushing just three times on the afternoon for eight yards, Belton was more effective in the pass game than on the ground. It was a tough year for the Penn State running backs, who suffered greatly from injuries to the offensive line. Today was just another indication of how they played most of the season. 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: A-

As has been the case all season long, the wide receivers and tight ends go as Christian Hackenberg go. As Hackenberg was productive Saturday, so were his wide receivers. Paced by Geno Lewis, who had seven catches for 140 yards, the receiving core was sensational all day long. Eight different Nittany Lions caught a pass and four different Penn Staters scored in the contest. Of course, the biggest play of the night was the long bomb to Godwin for the first score. However, in my opinion, the biggest play of the day was a quick out to tight end Jesse James, who changed the entire complexity of the drive on third down with his second chance effort to get to the sticks. As Coach Franklin would say, “It was a tremendous team effort,” and Franklin should be proud of his receivers in the way they stepped up today. Just like Hackenberg, big things will be expected of this group in 2015 as many of the starters return.

Offensive Line: B

The offensive line, especially after all that happened in the form of injuries and young players starting early this season, played fairly well. Miles Dieffenbach was a complete game changer for the Nittany Lions, and the running game came to a screeching halt when he went down with an injury and didn’t return. There was quite a bit of upside in this contest, though, but I don’t know if it was the strong play of the offensive line or the fact that Boston College simply didn’t get much push up front. With the exception of two sacks allowed and the Christian Hackenberg fumble, I felt as if the line played significantly better than they had in weeks past. This, just like a majority of the offense, is a young core that will continue to learn and get better as they go along.

Defensive Line: C+

What is known as possibly the strongest asset of the Penn State team was quite average in this one. Yes, the numbers are a bit misleading because Boston College is a run heavy team. However, the defensive line did get blown off the ball quite a bit in this one, and the running duo of running back Jon Hilliman and quarterback Tyler Murphy gashed the Penn State defense for over 250 yards on the ground. The Nittany Lions were able to record just one sack on the afternoon, and it didn’t even come from a defensive linemen, as Jordan Lucas was able to get to Murphy from his cornerback spot. They did, however, generate four tackles for loss in this one, and were at their best in keeping Murphy from running the option too many times. This was a terrific season from one of the best front fours in the country.

Linebackers/ Defensive Backs: B-

Once again, the word that I would use to describe this group’s performance is average. They weren’t terrible by any means, but they weren’t outstanding either. Six of the top eight Nittany Lion defenders in terms of tackles made in the contest were either cornerbacks or linebackers. Now, what that tells me is that the running game was able to get into the second level far too frequently, and tackles had to be made by one of these players to prevent a huge play. The biggest problem seemed to be the inability to wrap up and bring to the ground Boston College players. The defense struggled mightily in taking down Hilliman after first contact. Like I mentioned earlier, Jordan Lucas did have the only sack on the day, bolstering this core’s otherwise average numbers. It was a good season for the secondary, and a decent finish to the 2014 campaign.

Special Teams: A-

There is very little to go off of in this game for the special teams, but what they did do, they did well. Sam Ficken knocked through a 45-yard field goal with ease as time  nearly expired to send the game into overtime. He then became somewhat of the hero, albeit by simply hitting the extra point after the Penn State offense scored in overtime, giving the team the 31-30 victory. Daniel Pasquariello was decent in this one, averaging 34.5 yards on six punts. He did, however, pin the Eagles inside their 20 twice on the day. Losing Sam Ficken, who had a troubled start to his career, but finishes as a Nittany Lion fan favorite, will be a major problem next season, but Pasquariello continues to improve.

Coaching Staff: B

Bob Shoop, in what could be his last game as Penn State defensive coordinator, dialed one more good game from his defense. They started out slow, but adjusted nicely over the latter portion of the game, holding BC to just three points in the fourth quarter. Shoop could be back, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see teams come calling for a head coaching position. John Donovan did a good job as well on the offensive side of the ball, as passing 50 times seemed to be the team’s best option. He did seem to abandon the run game some, but when you win, you can’t really argue with results. James Franklin, his staff, and all his players deserved this victory.

Game Experience: A

One knew that the Nittany Lion faithful would pack Yankee Stadium to support their team. I couldn’t have imagined how lopsided the seating would be though. Through a sparse Boston College crowd was a large Penn State following, and the “We Are” chants echoed in through the television. This was more than a bowl game for Penn State players and fans alike, and the win was the perfect ending to the season.

Tyler Zulli is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email