IOWA CITY, Iowa — For the last month, we’ve been told the happiest place during this wonderful time of the year is New York City.
I find that it’s a matter of preference, myself. Some enjoy city sidewalks, others like a sleigh ride. I can tell you one thing for certain: it’s not the beach.
But Iowa players and coaches consider their Pinstripe Bowl trip about business rather than pleasure. A five-game bowl losing streak has left even the most diehard fans frustrated. This venture is about nothing short of victory. The Hawkeyes’ matchup with Boston College pits a pair of 7-5 teams that have looked good several times and pedestrian for a handful, as well.
Here are three keys for Iowa in the Pinstripe Bowl against Boston College (5:15 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Dec. 27, ESPN):
The Hawkeyes are down to their fourth and fifth starting tackles this season with freshman Tristan Wirfs moving to left tackle and sophomore Levi Paulsen opening at right tackle. Original starters Boone Myers and Ike Boettger had season-ending surgery for a severely sprained ankle and torn Achilles tendon, respectively.
Freshman left tackle Alaric Jackson was suspended from the bowl game for violating team rules, which shifted Wirfs from right tackle to left. Paulsen makes his second career start in the bowl game. Last season he opened at guard against Illinois.
The Hawkeyes need a sterling performance on the edge against Boston College’s devastating duo of Zach Allen and Harold Landry. This year, Allen had 14.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks and 93 total tackles. Landry was a powerhouse in 2016, collecting 16.5 sacks and forcing 7 fumbles. Any key to Iowa’s success starts with defending Allen and Landry.
Boston College has one of the nation’s better pass defenses, allowing just 199.7 yards per game. But the Eagles have struggled against the run, giving up 198.4 yards to rank 100th nationally.
Despite one of the nation’s better running backs in Akrum Wadley, Iowa has been inconsistent running the football. The Hawkeyes average 142.4 yards per game. How Iowa handles the line of scrimmage will determine the outcome. Since 2015, when the Hawkeyes rush for at least 100 yards, they are 27-1. When they don’t, they are 0-11.
On the other side, Boston College boasts one of the best running backs nationally in freshman A.J. Dillon, who rushed for 1,432 yards and 13 touchdowns this year. Dillon was named the ACC’s Rookie of the Year and was first-team All-ACC. In his final six games, Dillon ran for 1,099 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Eagles were 5-1 during that stretch with the wins coming by an average of 23.4 points. That includes a 35-3 win against Florida State and a victory against Louisville in which Dillon rushed for 4 touchdowns. The only loss in that span was a 17-14 decision to N.C. State.
Iowa’s run defense is good enough to battle the Eagles for four quarters. But Iowa can win with its pass rush and pass defense. The Eagles rank 114th in passing with 162.8 yards per game. Starting quarterback Anthony Brown missed the last two games and won’t play in this one, either. Senior Darius Wade will start the Pinstripe Bowl and he has performed admirably in Brown’s absence. This year, Wade has completed 46 of 75 passes for 528 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception.
Sophomore defensive end Anthony Nelson has paced the Hawkeyes’ pass rush with 6 sacks this season. Senior linebacker Josey Jewell and freshman defensive end A.J. Epenesa chipped in with 4.5 sacks each. The Hawkeyes’ pass rush has helped the secondary flourish with 19 interceptions, tied for second-most nationally. Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson has 25 passes defensed with 7 interceptions and was named a unanimous first-team All-American.
If the Hawkeyes can get after Wade, there’s a chance for turnovers. If Iowa can convert those into points, it may nullify the Eagles’ greatest strength of running the football.
SCOTT DOCHTERMAN — Iowa 20-10
BOBBY LA GESSE — Iowa 24-17
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