Penn State has held opponents to 84.8 rushing yards per game -- tops of any NCAA defense this season -- and also ranks second overall in total yards allowed. Boston College, meanwhile, has rushed for nearly 252 yards per game, and it will test its strength head-up against Penn State.
"I think we're going to have to stick to what we do," said senior B.C. lineman Andy Gallik, who was named a finalist for the Rimington Award as the nation's best center. "Penn State is just as tough as we are, and I think that stems from their coaching staff. Both of our staffs are similar, and you can see that in how they play. We're going to run the ball just like we always have. We're going to run it right at them, and we feel like that's how we're most comfortable and most effective. That's going to set up passing situations where Tyler Murphy is going to make a lot of plays for us. It's going to be a really tough game."
Both of these teams have had bright spots this season, and both have struggled at points. Penn State (6-6) won each of its first four games but has lost six of its last eight and went just 2-6 against Big Ten conference opponents this season. B.C. (7-5) went 4-4 against Atlantic Coast Conference foes and took No. 2 Florida State all the way to the limit before losing.
And now, these two teams find themselves fighting against a potential recruiting rival in their bowl game. Both Penn State and Boston College want to dominate the Northeast recruiting landscape, and they'll have an opportunity to make a statement against each other in the fifth annual Pinstripe Bowl.
"We've played some good defenses this year, but these guys are as good as anybody we've played," said B.C. offensive coordinator Ryan Day. "We've played Florida State and we've played Clemson. We've played Louisville. We've played some good defenses, but these guys are as good if not better than those guys. They know their schemes well. They're talented and very well coached."
Both teams have their share of star players. Murphy, B.C.'s dual-threat quarterback, has received most of the accolades this season, and Penn State has senior linebacker Mike Hull. Hull was named second-team All-American this year, and he'll be playing his final college game today.
Murphy has thrown for 1,500 yards and run for 1,100 yards, but BC has done most of its damage on the ground. The Eagles rank 12th nationally at rush offense and 121st out of 125 teams in passing, and Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop wants his players to keep simple goals in mind.
"We've got to beat blocks, we've got to run to the ball and we've got to tackle like a big league football team," he said. "I think sometimes when you've got a lot of time to prepare for a bowl game, you try to overthink things or reinvent the wheel. We haven't done that. We're going to keep it simple. ... I always say that bowl games are about three things: You see ball security, tackling and special teams show up in bowls. We've talked about trying to take the ball away and talked about tackling well."
And if Penn State likes its matchup on defense, Boston College might be able to say the same thing. B.C. has the No. 12 overall defense in the country -- yielding just 313.5 yards per game -- and will be facing a team that has a sophomore quarterback and four freshmen receivers.
One of those freshmen -- DaeSean Hamilton -- has distinguished himself with 75 catches and 848 yards this season, and he was named to the second-team all-conference. John Donovan, Penn State's offensive coordinator, said that the entire season has been a learning experience for his players.
"We have a few true freshmen playing. And redshirt freshmen," he said. "You can teach them all you want, but until they get game experience, you don't know. ...That's been happening every week of the year here and that's why they'll be so much better. That's going to help as we go forward."
Hamilton, a native of Fredericksburg, Va., missed his entire true freshman year with a broken wrist, and he's stepped right in and starred as a redshirt freshman. The youngster said he'd never lost four games in a row as a high school player and he knows brighter days are ahead for Penn State.
"I'd say I'm thrilled, but I know I can do a lot better," Hamilton said of his performance during his freshman year. "There are areas of my game that I know I can get better at in the upcoming season. There's always somebody out there trying to compete with you, and there's always somebody out there that could be better than you. Anytime I can grow as a player, I'm going to try to take advantage of that."
B.C. lost several standouts from last year's team that went 7-5, including the program's all-time leading rusher (Andre Williams) and receiver (Alex Amidon). Murphy has stepped right in and kept the team's offense running smoothly, and that's allowed the B.C. defense to keep the team in games. Don Brown, the defensive coordinator, said the Eagles have a lot to be proud of this season.
"It's been an interesting year. If you'd asked Coach Day or myself, if you come out of there with seven years in a transition year, you'd probably be pleased," said Brown. "We let Clemson off the hook. We let Colorado State off the hook, and Florida State we took all the way to the wire. We shut them out for the entire second half except for three seconds. It could've been a special year, but by the same token, some of those wins for us could've gone the other way, too. The win at U.S.C. could've gone either way. It is what it is, but we're very pleased to have seven wins and to be in the Pinstripe Bowl."
Representatives from both teams rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Friday, and they both had an opportunity to visit the World Trade Center memorial earlier in the week. Now there's nothing left to do but play, and these two similar teams can't wait to test their mettle this afternoon.
"It's a challenge we're really looking forward to. I'm sure they're looking forward to it as well," said Murphy. "You have to strap your chinstrap a little tighter. Just go out there and have fun. It's going to be a challenging game. It's going to be tough. It's going to be competitive. But as a college football player, this is something you look forward to. And what better place than to be here in Yankee Stadium? We're two teams from the East trying to turn the tide and have momentum going into next season."
The first Yankee Stadium was the home of football's New York Giants from 1956-73, and college powers like Army and Notre Dame frequently played at the venue during the 1930's and 40's.
The new Yankee Stadium harkened back to those days of yore by hosting Notre Dame vs. Army in 2010, and it's handled a few regular season games in addition to the Pinstripe Bowl in recent years. Army faced off against UConn this year, and rivals Lafayette and Lehigh also played at Yankee Stadium.
The Pinstripe Bowl has had a brief but eventful history often marked by inclement weather. Local powers Syracuse and Rutgers have both won the Pinstripe Bowl over its first few seasons. Notre Dame took the title last year, when it dominated the second half en route to a 29-16 win over Rutgers.
The Empire State Building's world famous tower lights gave a nod to the Pinstripe Bowl on Friday. The north and south sides of the building were lit in white and navy for Penn State University, while the east and west sides were bathed in gold and maroon for Boston College.