Lions hope to narrow gap with BC’s veteran line

NEW YORK – Boston College has a terrific running game, so naturally it has a very good offensive line, as well.

Penn State has had no such luxury this season.

“One of the biggest differences between our two programs, they had five graduated seniors on the offensive line, we had one,” PSU coach James Franklin told reporters Friday afternoon at a Pinstripe Bowl news conference.

That added up, Franklin noted, to about 140 combined starts for the Eagles’ linemen, compared to about 20 for the Nittany Lions.

The PSU linemen have played better over their past four games, but that hasn’t erased the bad memories from their immense struggles earlier. The ugliest result of the O-line problems has been Christian Hackenberg being sacked a Big Ten-record 42 times.

“A lot of the scrutiny that we get is from people outside of the organization that don’t really know exactly what’s going on and may not know football the best,” right tackle Andrew Nelson said. “We’re just trying to drown those things out and just focus on ourselves, focus on getting better.

“We know we’re a young unit, we know we have a long way to go, and all we’re trying to do every day is get better.”

The linemen have done just that with each passing game, and they’ll get a final chance to show how far they’ve come today against Boston College.

How much better has the line gotten?

“Oh, a lot,” said left guard Miles Dieffenbach, who helped spark the line after returning from a knee injury. “From day one to now is night and day. A lot better execution, guys getting hats on hats, focusing in on who to go to and then being aggressive and then building holes for the running backs.”

The thing the linemen have learned the most, Dieffenbach noted, is that “things always aren’t going to be pretty throughout a season, and one thing you’ve got to stay constant is your hard work.”

Nelson added the line’s performance has been “completely different from the beginning of the season to the end of the season.”

Regardless of what happens today, the O-line loses only one starter next season (Dieffenbach), and, the four returnees, will be expected to play much better.

“The really big thing about offensive line is just on-field reps and experience,” Nelson said. “All those reps from the previous games were so valuable to us coming together and finishing out strong.”

Ringing the bell

Franklin and three PSU players got to enjoy a unique experience Friday when they took part in ringing the bell at the opening of the New York Stock Exchange.

Place-kicker Sam Ficken, linebacker Brad Bars and cornerback Devin Pryor were on hand for the ceremony, with Ficken actually doing the ringing for 10 seconds to open the day’s trading.

All three players are finance majors, and Ficken interned at Merrill Lynch over the summer, so he’s no stranger to Wall Street.

“I was a little bit nervous, not going to lie,” Ficken told gopsusports.com. “It was a really cool experience for us.”

“It was awesome,” Pryor said. “How many people can say they did that? I’m so grateful.”

A “We are … Penn State” chant began on the trading floor after Ficken finished ringing the bell.