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Eagles like to stay on the ground

Penn State owned Boston College for decades in the head-to-head series, but the last three times the teams met, the Eagles came out on top.

The traditional Eastern rivals haven’t played in 10 years, and that hiatus will end in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 27 in New York. Penn State leads, 19-4, in the series that dates back to 1949, but Boston College won in 2004, 2003 and 1992.

This matchup will pit a BC team that hangs its hat on the run against a Penn State defense that leads the nation in stopping the run.

“It will be a challenge,” Nittany Lion coach James Franklin said. “We’ve been really good all year long stopping the run, but we haven’t really faced this type of offense.”

Exactly what kind of offense is it?

“They’re basically playing wildcat offense all the time with a really mobile quarterback,” Franklin said.

Senior quarterback Tyler Murphy runs the BC offense, and he’s not been all that effective throwing the ball. He’s thrown 11 TDs and 10 interceptions while completing 57 percent of his passes for 1,526 yards.

Where Murphy excels, though, is on the ground. He leads the team in rushing with 1,079 yards, averages 6.3 yards per carry and has 10 TDs.

Freshman Jon Hilliman has 712 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. The Eagles rank 15thin the nation in rushing with 252 yards per game, and they’re just 123rdin passing at 132 yards per game.

“Everybody knows that they’re going to run the ball, and they’ve been able to do it,” Franklin said.

The Eagles also have a strong defense, ranking 18thin the country, holding opponents to 20.5 points per game.

Boston College is coached by Steve Addazio, a name that should be familiar to Penn State fans. He was head coach at Temple before going to BC, and prior to that he was the offensive coordinator at Florida when the Lions played the Gators in the 2010 Outback Bowl.

“You should have seen our team when we announced we’re going to the @PinstripeBowl!! FIRED UP for our team and thanks to the @Yankees #WeAreBC,” Addazio tweeted Sunday.

Franklin said he’s known Addazio for a long time and also has worked with a couple of BC assistants at other stops.

“BC’s always had a history of having a hard-nosed, blue-collar team,” Franklin said.

Boston College is 7-5 overall and went 4-4 in the ACC. Its best win was a 37-31 decision over USC way back in week three, a week after it lost to Pitt, 30-20.

The Eagles’ other most impressive resume item is a 20-17 road loss to Florida State, which has a high-powered offense, is undefeated and playing in the College Football Playoff.

Franklin didn’t spend much time talking about Boston College during a teleconference Sunday night to discuss the bowl game. Instead, he focused more on what going to a bowl means to Penn State, in particular the 15 extra practices the team now gets this month.

“It’s excitement,” he said of the bowl game, “because I know how important these practices are on a lot of different levels.”

About the first half of the bowl practices will be spent on development of the PSU players, Franklin said, rather than preparing for the opponent. The coach said the workouts will be used more like spring practices.

“We want to use this time to develop the young guys, to sharpen up the old guys and continue to build the foundation we’re trying to lay here,” Franklin said.

There might be a few new wrinkles added to the game plan, but the coach said the tricky part about having so much time to prepare for a game is that sometimes it can lead to trying to be too cute and getting away “from who you are.”

What the Lions are at this point is banged up in a lot of places, as are many teams around the country, and the time off for bowl preparation will help everyone heal up.

“It’s not just the injuries of the guys who are out, it’s the nagging ankles and nagging hamstrings, “Franklin said.

About 80 percent of Penn State’s practices will be held in State College, with the rest coming at the bowl site. Several players took to Twitter on Sunday to express their excitement about going to New York.

“Ayeeee Christmas in New York for the Pinstripe Bowl,” linebacker Jason Cabinda wrote.

Offensive lineman Donovan Smith tweeted, “Going to the @PinstripeBowl my grandfather can possibly see me play for the first time in college.”