Boston College - Penn State Preview
If anyone ever writes a textbook on giving away a football game, last week's effort by Boston College will be an obvious research subject. The Eagles dominated the game, outgaining the Demon Deacons 443 yards to 309 (118 of that on two plays). BC also controlled the line of scrimmage (28 first downs to 16), but 14 penalties, three costly fumbles, a missed field goal, a quarterback overthrow and a dropped interception enabled Wake Forest to steal the opener at Alumni Stadium. Fortunately, the Eagles will get back onto the field Saturday with a chance to atone for last week with an upset win over Penn State in "Happy Valley." The Nittany Lions were very unimpressive against Temple on Saturday in a 23-10 victory. Here is a preview of Saturday's game:
When BC passes
BC's passing numbers last week were solid as starter Quinton Porter and Paul Peterson combined for a 26-for-44 day with 288 yards, 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. However, those numbers do not include Porter's two devastating fumbles. Two of the biggest bright spots for BC last week were reserve tight end David Kashetta (4 receptions for 84 yards) and Redshirt Freshman Jason Lilly (6 receptions for 68 yards). On Saturday, Porter and Peterson will have to contend with a veteran Penn State secondary which, like Wake Forest, likes to go with a five defensive back alignment. The Nittany Lions return two starters in the defensive backfield, which is anchored by Junior Free Safety Chris Harrell, who was fourth on the team last year with 85 tackles, and Senior Cornerback Rich Gardner who had 8 passes broken up and 2 interceptions in 2002. As a unit, Penn State allowed opposing quarterbacks a lofty 63.4% completion percentage last season, but improved over the course of the year after a terrible start. Most of Penn State's pass rush last season came from two NFL first round draft picks: DE Michael Haynes (15 sacks) and DT Jimmy Kennedy (5.5 sacks). Linebacker Derek Wake (3.5 sacks in 2002) and Right Defensive End Lavon Chisley (2 sacks against Temple) are two players that could put up big sack numbers this season. I think Penn State deserves a slight advantage in this matchup based on experience alone. This will be Quinton Porter's first road start and the 107,000-plus at "Happy Valley" will make for a very intimidating environment.
Advantage: Penn State
When BC runs
Last week, Derrick Knight picked up where he left off in 2002 with a 30 carry, 144 yard performance against Wake Forest. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. This week, Knight will face a tougher challenge in Penn State, though this is not the dominant Penn State defensive line that it was last season. The Lions front four includes three new starters including two Sophomores and one Redshirt Freshman. These players will have the unenviable task of replacing Jimmy Kennedy (picked 12th overall by the Rams), Michael Haynes (picked 14th overall by the Bears) and Anthony Adams (picked in the 2nd round by the 49ers). The trio combined for 234 tackles a year ago. The lone returning starter on the defensive line is Senior Left End John Bronson. As usual, Penn State has an excellent group of linebackers led by Senior Inside Linebacker Gino Capone (what a great name) who is the Lions leading returning tackler with 86. Capone and Junior LB Derek Wake combined for 18 tackles a week ago against Temple. This is a matchup that should favor Boston College. Temple back Makonnen Fenton lit up Penn State for 118 yards (5.1 per carry) in last week's game, though he was mostly silenced in the second half. I see no reason why Derrick Knight and BC offensive line can't repeat that performance on Saturday.
Advantage: Boston College
When Penn State Passes
Junior quarterback Zach Mills had a miserable day last week against Temple, completing just 6 of 17 passes for a meager 79 yards (56 on one play). The 6'3", 215 pound Mills was the second highest rated passer in the Big Ten last year, but was not as effective after suffering a shoulder injury midway through the season. The Nittany Lions may also go with quadruple-threat Sophomore Mike Robinson at quarterback for a few plays. Last week against Temple, Robinson played quarterback, tailback, wide receiver and returned kicks. The lone experienced returning wide receiver for Penn State is Senior Tony Johnson who hauled in 34 passes for 549 yards and 3 TD's a year ago. Sophomore Kinta Palmer should get the start at flanker. Senior Casey Williams, a very "un-tight end-like" 6'0" will also start for Penn State. BC's secondary played fairly well last week until the fourth quarter and Zach Mills does not appear to be playing his best football so I'll give a slight edge to the Eagles in this matchup.
Advantage: Boston College
When Penn State Runs
Penn State rushing attack was devastating last year. Larry Johnson gained over 2,000 yards with 20 TD's and broke the NCAA record for yards per carry in the regular season with an 8.0 average. Thankfully for BC, Mr. Johnson is now a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. Without the workhorse Johnson, Penn State will share the wealth at running back. Mike Robinson, True Freshman Austin Scott (3,853 yards and 53 TD's last season as a High School Senior) and Senior Sean McHugh are each expected to carry the ball a lot this year. Last week against Temple, the three combined for 184 yards on 26 carries (a 7.1 average). The Nittany Lions will start two Seniors, two Juniors and a Freshman on an offensive line with all new starters. This group averages 6'4" and 297 pounds. Even without Larry Johnson, Penn State will look to run first and pass second. Last week the Lions had twice as many running plays as passing plays and I wouldn't be suprised to see a similar ratio this week. They also ran the ball 20 of 26 times on first down. If you take away the one 75-yard run, the BC defense allowed only 2.2 yards per carry last week against Wake Forest, but Penn State will provide a much tougher challenge. Like most of the matchups in this game, this one is hard to call. Penn State has three very good backs, but a completely revamped offensive line. This matchup is too tough to call.
Penn State has a great kicker in Junior Robbie Gould, a Lou Groza Award candidate, who connected on 17 of 22 attempts last season and was 13 of 14 inside of 40 yards. Last week against Temple, a 51-yarder was his only miss in four tries. Tony Johnson returned kicks for a solid 24.0 average in 2002. The Eagles would be well advised to pay attention to Derek Wake, who blocked four field goals/extra points last year and added a punt block against Temple. Last week, Will Blackmon made a large impact as I said he might. Unfortunately, that impact was a fumble that cost the Eagles a touchdown. Sandro Sciortino, who made his last 11 attempts to end last season, missed his only try against Wake Forest as he was wide right on a 44-yarder. BC punter Jeff Gomulinsky had a solid debut for the Eagles, averaging 44 yards in his six punts. The advantage on special teams has to go to Penn State mainly because of Gould and Wake.
Advantage: Penn State
I fully expect both Penn State and Boston College to play much better than they did last Saturday. I also expect both teams to feature the running game, though BC's ratio of passes to runs is likely to be higher with the focus again on the tight ends and Derrick Knight out of the backfield. If BC can reduce penalties (even half as many as last week would be too many) and hold onto the ball, there is no reason why they cannot leave "Happy Valley" with a victory. Penn State was only 9-4 last season and lost four players who were first round picks in the NFL draft (two more Penn Staters were picked in the second round). That is a lot of lot of talent to lose in a single year. They also lost nearly every starter on both the offensive and defensive lines and their quarterback is struggling. Arguably, Temple outplayed Penn State last week outgaining the Lions by 47 yards and putting up five more first downs. Unfortunately for BC, the Nittany Lions will have a major advantage, or should I say 107,000 advantages in the Beaver Stadium Crowd. Recent history tells me that BC has performed very poorly in the first quarter of road games in a hostile environment (Miami, West Virginia, Virginia Tech). In many of those situations, they have played well over the final three quarters, but it was too little, too late. If the Eagles can survive the first couple of series and not be overwhelmed by the crowd, I think this will be a tight game deep into the fourth quarter. This one could go either way, but the home field advantage and Robbie Gould will be the difference.
Final Score: Penn State 27 Boston College 24