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Hack holds the keys to success

NEW YORK – Five things to look for as Penn State plays its first bowl game in three years against a Boston College team that presents a unique challenge.

No. 1: Healthy Hack

He’s been able to hit the reset button after taking a few weeks off, so maybe we’ll finally get to see the guy we think is the real Christian Hackenberg instead of the stranger who’s been wearing No. 14 all season.

Is it too much to ask this late in the season? Perhaps.

Penn State’s offensive line still has some problems. The receivers still may struggle getting open. And Boston College’s defense is good.

It’s going to be tough to reach the magical 20-point mark, but a refreshed Hackenberg should be – that’s should be – plenty good enough to overcome a lot of the issues. Maybe not all of them, but hey, a good quarterback is supposed to be able to mask some of an offense’s deficiencies.

Perhaps Hack finally will be able to do that today.

No. 2: Offensive wrinkles

Let’s see what coordinator John Donovan has up his sleeve. If the offense works the middle of the field more, uses the tight ends more, throws more slant passes.

There’s no more blaming the offensive line. That unit has played well enough down the stretch to buy Hackenberg some time, so the challenge falls to Donovan and his offensive cohorts to see if they can find a way to work more elements into the playcalling repertoire.

Having a few weeks off to prepare for a bowl game isn’t enough time for a team to reinvent itself and start doing all sorts of things it otherwise wouldn’t be capable of doing.

But there’s no reason to think Hackenberg can’t do a lot of different things, simply because we saw him do those things last year. The question is whether the offensive system of Donovan and coach James Franklin can put him in position to do those things.

No. 3: Contain BC’s QB

Penn State’s defense has excelled against the run, leading the nation, but Boston College will test the Lions with its potent and problematic scheme.

Quarterback Tyler Murphy is an outstanding runner, averaging 6.3 yards per carry on his way to 1,079 yards and 10 TDs. He runs the read option very well, and since he’s the No. 1 ground option, the Lions must be aware of him first and foremost.

Typically the way to defend an option quarterback is to have a spy on him at all times, and that could be linebacker Mike Hull today.

Murphy is not an overly effective passer, throwing for only 1,526 yards with 11 TDs and 10 interceptions. The Lions will do everything they can to force him to the air, where the Eagles struggle as they average only 132 yards passing and have a leading receiver with just 26 catches.

No. 4: Settle in early

Bowl games generally aren’t won in the first quarter, but they can be lost if one team isn’t ready to play and falls behind big. Penn State cannot afford to get behind by two scores early, and neither can Boston College since it relies so heavily on the run game.

The PSU players will have a lot of emotions since many of them have been waiting three years for this day to arrive. They’ll need to keep everything in check early to prevent the Eagles from gaining a quick advantage.

No. 5: Players to watch

Penn State: The Lions cannot win unless Christian Hackenberg plays very well.

Boston College: Ditto for the Eagles with their quarterback, Tyler Murphy, but the pick here is BC’s defense. The unit is 19th in the nation in points allowed at 20.5. If it gives up that many today, Penn State probably wins.

Prediction: Penn State 20, Boston College 17

Follow @CoryGiger on Twitter for live updates and analysis throughout today’s game from Yankee Stadium.