Point Counterpoint: Will Offense Or Defense Be The Key To A Bowl Victory?

Murphy and offense must step up

By Tom DeVoto | Heights Staff

It would be easy for the Boston College football team to default to one of the most overused sports cliches in this situation: “defense wins championships.” The phrase is generally credited to Alabama’s Bear Bryant, who coached the Crimson Tide for 25 years. But does it really still hold true today?

Take, for example, former University of Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, who became renowned for his explosive offensive scheme. In his final three years at the helm, the Ducks ranked in the top five in total offense each year, averaging an astounding 47.5 points per game. Oregon’s defense generally held opposing offenses at bay, but it was nothing to celebrate. In those three years, Oregon won the Fiesta Bowl and the Rose Bowl, and made an appearance in the National Championship Game.

Kelly’s success with an offense-centric game plan indicates that college football teams no longer need to rely on shutdown defenses to win. On the contrary, a team paced by a prolific offense is more effective.

In Kelly’s mind, every play was a prime opportunity for points, regardless of the tiring effects it had on his own defensive players. The focus was on maximizing his team’s points, not minimizing the opposing team’s score.

For BC to defeat the Penn State Nittany Lions in the Pinstripe Bowl, it will need an offensive attack that lights up the scoreboard faster than you can say “Yankee Stadium.” The Eagles need to strike early and engage their fan base to sway momentum in their favor. It will be essential for BC to get the crowd going—there should be a lot of Superfans in attendance—because it’s obvious what they can do with a little bit of added energy and excitement.

The Eagles have been inconsistent on offense in the 2014 campaign. BC is one of the best teams in the NCAA on the ground with 251.8 rushing yards per game, but it ranks 123rd out of 128 in the nation in passing. Quarterback Tyler Murphy is simply better at taking over games with his legs rather than with his arm. He did break BC’s all-time rushing record for quarterbacks, after all.

Each of BC’s biggest wins had high scores. The final lines against USC, Virginia Tech, and NC State were 37-31, 33-31, and 30-14, respectively. The Eagles’ defense, as impressive as it has been, has trouble stopping its most talented opponents.

Now look at the Eagles’ losses: BC has point totals of 20, 21, 13, 19, and 17 in those five games. Regardless of the number of points its opponents put up, if BC cannot repeatedly get the ball in the end zone, its chances of winning are slim.

If the Eagles want to win, they must put up around 30 points and hope the defensive unit holds together long enough to stave off the Nittany Lions. To get the offense firing on all cylinders, Murphy cannot be afraid to mix in a pass once in a while. The dynamic backfield duo of Jon Hilliman and Myles Willis must dominate the ground game and put a beating on the Nittany Lions’ front seven. Pint-sized Sherm Alston needs to provide a timely spark with his big play potential.

It also must be said that Penn State’s offense is bad—laughably bad. It takes a special kind of offense for a team that possesses one of the top defensive units in the entire country to stumble to a .500 record. The Nittany Lions, led by erratic sophomore QB Christian Hackenberg, achieved just that. Held to just six points at home versus 5-7 Northwestern earlier this season, the Nittany Lions’ offense has sputtered frequently this season, but can put up points when it needs to.

Ultimately, Murphy must lead the offensive effort in his final collegiate game if the Eagles plan to have any shot at taming the Nittany Lions.

Tight D will pace Eagles against PSU

By Juan Santini | For the Heights

“Defense wins championships,” or so goes the old football cliche. And although the winner of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl matchup between Boston College and Penn State will not be crowned National Champions, there is still plenty on the line going into the game.

For BC, it represents an opportunity to record its first eight-win season since 2009. An eight-win season would also mark clear progress for head coach Steve Addazio as he wraps up his second season on the Heights, hoping to continue increasing the number in the win column each year.

While quarterback Tyler Murphy and the offense will be counted on for their usual ground-and-pound effort, the Penn State defense, ranked first nationally in rushing defense and second in total defense, seems equal to the task. Points will be hard to come by in this game, and as such, the most important aspect of this matchup for BC will be how they perform on the defensive side of the ball.

BC has a huge opportunity on defense to win this game by ensuring they get the edge in the turnover battle, which would give the offense good field position on its drives. To do this, the team must rattle Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg.

After an impressive freshman campaign in Happy Valley, he has had a nightmare of a sophomore season. He is currently one interception shy of a 1:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio for the year. This ratio, to put it lightly, represents plenty of room for improvement. His passing efficiency ranks 118th of all 125 NCAA DI schools. He has also been sacked more than all but six DI quarterbacks, which certainly has not helped him with his turnover problems.

Sadly for PSU fans, the rushing offense is equally paltry, ranking 117th in the nation in yards per game. All things considered, the Penn State offense has been a disappointment all year, and despite high offensive outputs against perennial cupcakes in UMass and Temple, it ranks 117th in yards per game offense, and 115th in scoring offense. These poor statistics, particularly the ones highlighting the Nittany Lions’ propensity for turnovers, spell trouble against an opportunistic and aggressive BC defense.

With PSU’s defense set to give the Eagles’ clock-consuming offense fits, the task falls upon the BC defense to pressure Hackenberg into making mistakes early. He has shown in the past that he can be rattled if pressured in the early stages of the game, and if BC can force some turnovers and jump out to a quick lead, the already struggling Penn State offense becomes one dimensional—a bad recipe for a team with a quarterback that throws almost twice as many interceptions as touchdowns and gets sacked more than three times a game.

Luckily for BC defensive coordinator Don Brown and his players, the Eagles rank a respectable 33rd nationally in team sacks and 24th in tackles for loss. This is an aggressive BC defense, led by its formidable front-seven, that can make it a very long afternoon in New York for the Penn State offense. If the Eagles can pressure Hackenberg into mistakes that lead to good field position for the BC offense, the Eagles’ physical offensive style of play will eventually wear down the PSU defense.

Of course, it is more than likely that Tyler Murphy and the BC offense will be the subject of most of the highlights in this matchup. Against a very stout Nittany Lion defense, however, it would not be a surprise if the offense struggles. In games like this, the offense needs a hand from the defense to provide a spark. If you put any stock in statistics, you have to like BC’s chances to have a very happy bus-ride back from Yankee Stadium.

Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic