Four-down territory: The Pinstripe Bowl
Four things the football teams from Iowa and Boston College can do to work their way to victory in Wednesday’s 4:15 p.m. Pinstripe Bowl game at Yankee Stadium:
Boston College (7-5)
1. Establish the run
It’s what the Eagles do, run the football.
No back in the nation has been more productive during the second half of hte season than Boston College’s 6-foot, 240-pound freshman phenom, A.J. Dillon
He’s averaged 183.2 yards per game in his last six games, piling up 1,099 yards and scoring 11 touchdowns as part of a rushing attack which has led the Eagles to average 36 in its last six games while going 5-1.
Dillon’s breakthrough game came against Louisville, a 272-yard effort on 39 carries.
While Dillon is the workhorse with 268 carries on the season, but he isn’t the likely starter. Junior Jon Hilliman fills that role, with 622 yards on 163 carries compared to the 1,432 Dillon has piled up.
The Eagles average 47 rushes per game. Don’t expect that to change.
2. Spread it around
Boston College lost its starting quarterback, freshman Anthony Brown, to a season-ending injury 10 games into the season.
Senior Darius Wade, a short-term starter in 2015, is the replacement and has completed 61.3 percent of the 75 passes he has thrown this season.
The Eagles’ receiving corps has some depth. Kobay White leads the team with 32 receptions and with 29 catches, tight end Tom Sweeney has one more reception than Iowa’s Noah Fant.
Boston College has eight players with double-digit reception totals, including four with more than 23 catches.
3. Have many happy returns
Michael Walker gives Boston College a dangerous threat on special teams.
The junior leads the Atlantic Coast Conference and is fifth nationally at the Football Bowl Subdivision level with an average of 13.7 yards on 26 punt returns this season.
He’s equally effective on kick returns, ranking fifth in the ACC with his average of 24.3 yards on 31 returns.
By comparison, Iowa average 6.8 yards on punt returns and 22.8 yards on kick returns.
Walker has the ability to make game-changing, field-position shifting plays in the return game and preventing that is among the Hawkeyes’ top tasks on special teams.
4. Play to the crowd
The conditions at Yankee Stadium are expected to be brutal with a temperature near kickoff around 19 degrees.
That won’t help attendance and with Iowa fans generally lukewarm about a cold-weather bowl trip, Boston College will enjoy a home-field advantage of sorts.
The Chestnut Hill campus is about a four-hour drive from Yankee Stadium, giving fans a commuter option to attend the game.
1. Establish the run
It’s what the Hawkeyes do, run the football.
The barometer for Iowa this season has been 100 yards. When the Hawkeyes rush for 100 yards as a team, they win. They’re 7-0 when reaching the century mark on the ground.
When Iowa doesn’t reach that plateau, the Hawkeyes are 0-5.
Boston College has given up some yards on the ground, ranking 13th in the Atlantic Coast Conference in run defense. The Eagles have given up 198.4 rushing yards per game this season, but have trimmed 25 yards off that average with their work in three December games.
The game is the collegiate finale for Akrum Wadley, who enters the game needing two touchdowns to match the Iowa career record of 36 set by Bettendorf’s Tavian Banks.
Playing close to his hometown of Newark, New Jersey, Wadley won’t lack for motivation while working behind a line that will open with its fifth starting five of the season and its first change in eight games following the suspension of left tackle Alaric Jackson.
Levi Paulsen gets the start at right tackle, his first since playing guard in a game at Illinois in 2016, while Tristan Wirfs will move from right tackle to left tackle.
Jackson won’t be the only starter missing on the line. Boston College will play a fifth straight game without Harold Landry, a defensive end who led the Football Bowl Subdivision with 16.5 sacks in 2016.
The Eagles’ 4-3 front has been aggressive, recording 23 sacks on the season.
Iowa has found success on the defensive front by rotating eight players this season. That should help against an Eagles offensive line that has protected its quarterbacks, allowing 13 sacks this season and has been able to wear down opposing defenses.
2. Secure the ball
On a frigid December night, ball security is a potential issue for both teams and whoever can win the turnover battle will only help themselves.
Hawkeye quarterback Nate Stanley hasn’t had issues there, throwing just six picks in the 336 passes he has attempted as a first-year starter.
Iowa has fumbled the ball 21 times this season, losing 13.
Boston College quarterbacks have thrown 10 interceptions in 340 pass this season and fumbled only 17 times, losing seven.
Both teams have opportunistic on defense. The Hawkeyes’ Josh Jackson and Eagle’s Lukas Denis share the national lead in interceptions, the only two players in the Football Bowl Subdivision to pick off seven passes this season.
Jackson has returned a pair for touchdowns.
3. Deal with Dillon
Stopping the run has always been an Iowa objective.
Stopping A.J. Dillon, the Boston College freshman running back, will be a test. Dillon blends the spinning ability that has been Akrum Wadley’s calling card with the power created by his 240-pound frame.
Linebacker play will be important for Iowa, with Josey Jewell, Bo Bower and Ben Niemann facing a challenge in their final collegiate game.
The Hawkeyes rank 38th nationally against the run, allowing 142.1 yards per game.
4. Win special teams
Iowa’s special teams could play a role in the outcome of this one.
The Hawkeyes’ Miguel Recinos has delivered consistently during his junior season, connecting on 9-of-11 field goal attempts including all four he has attempted from 40 yards or more.
His Eagles’ counterpart, junior Colton Lichtenberg has struggled with consistency issues. Lichtenberg has gone 10-of-17 this season, including a 2-of-8 success rate on attempts of 40 yards or more.
Despite season-long inconsistencies, Iowa has a slight edge in net punting against the Eagles. The Hawkeyes average 37.4 yards in net punting while the Eagles net an average of 36.8 yards when punting.