Pinstripe Bowl 2-Minute Drill: Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Boston College Eagles

It's up to the Hawkeyes to win a favorable bowl matchup and end their most painful streak going

Iowa and Boston College meet in the Pinstripe Bowl Wednesday at Yankee Stadium. (Original photo via USA TODAY Sports)
Iowa and Boston College meet in the Pinstripe Bowl Wednesday at Yankee Stadium. (Original photo via USA TODAY Sports)

The stage is set for Iowa to “get well” in bowl games.

Iowa isn’t “bowling up” this year. You know what “bowling up” means, maybe you haven’t articulated it that way. In last year’s Outback Bowl, a 30-3 loss to Florida, Iowa wasn’t in the same league with a Gators team that had eight NFL draft picks, including four in the first two rounds. It was basically the same against LSU in the 2014 Outback, except Iowa kept it close (21-14 loss). Scores in the 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl (a 45-28 loss to Tennessee) and the 2016 Rose Bowl (a 45-16 loss to Stanford) show that, yes, Iowa “bowl’d up” and got hammered for it.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has picked up on this, noting that Iowa is rarely if ever favored in its bowl games.

Well, in the Pinstripe Bowl against Boston College (7-5), the Hawkeyes (7-5) are three-point favorites. This is not a “bowl up.” This is a right-sized matchup between two teams that value defense, time of possession and running the football.

So, yeah, it’ll turn out 44-41 in overtime or something like that.

The Hawkeyes and the Eagles kick off at 4:15 p.m. (Iowa time) on Wednesday and will be televised on ESPN. The game is being played at Yankee Stadium (capacity of 47,878).

Iowa rush offense vs. Boston College rush defense

Boston College defensive coordinator Jim Reid coached linebackers for the Hawkeyes from 2013 through 2015, before making a move back home to his native Boston area. Kirk Ferentz likes to joke that Iowa has three running plays (they do, but the variations of formation and motions dress things up). Reid will know these three running plays. He spent three years coaching against it every day in practice.

More: Jim Reid knows Iowa's offense

It was a tale of two seasons for BC’s rush defense. In the first seven games, the Eagles were punctured for 342 rushing yards vs. Clemson, 293 against Louisville and 515 against Notre Dame. So yeah, the level of competition there was skyscraper high. In the final five games, the Eagles clamped down, allowing a reasonable amount of rushing yards (217 was the high vs. North Carolina State). Junior defensive end Zach Allen (6-5, 285) led the Eagles with 14.5 tackles for loss.

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Iowa’s running game has been as stable as a bat with rabies. The Hawkeyes have been held to less than 100 rushing yards in five games this year and lost all five. BC finished 13th in the Atlantic Coast Conference in rush defense (198.4 yards per game), but trimmed that to 175.0 per along with just three rushing TDs allowed in November.

Advantage: Push

Iowa pass offense vs. Boston College pass defense

Last week, Iowa announced left offensive tackle Alaric Jackson will travel with the team but will be suspended for the Pinstripe for violation of team policy. That will push true freshman Tristan Wirfs from right to left tackle. Sophomore Levi Paulsen (6-5, 305) likely will get the start at right tackle. Paulsen hasn’t started a game since last November at Illinois and hasn’t played tackle since a few plays against Michigan last year.

Iowa won't have to contend with BC defensive end Harold Landry, who head coach Steve Addazio said Tuesday will not play. The 6-3, 250-pounder, who led the nation with 16.5 sacks last season, missed the final four games of the season with an ankle injury.

Even without Landry, the Eagles will probably get pressure on Iowa QB Nate Stanley. According to Pro Football Focus, Stanley was pressured this season on approximately 40 percent of dropback passes and took hits on 16 percent of dropback passes. That’s a lot of hits and pressure.

Iowa has the nation’s interceptions leader and so does BC. Safety Lukas Denis and Iowa corner Josh Jackson are tied for the nation’s lead with seven picks (Florida Atlantic’s Jalen Young also has seven).

Advantage: Boston College

Iowa rush defense vs. Boston College rush offense

The numbers already tell you Boston College freshman running back A.J. Dillon is a productive player. The 6-0, 240-pound freshman shattered BC’s freshman rushing record, piling up 1,432 yards and 13 touchdowns. Dillon earned Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year, becoming the first player in school history to win the award.

Dillon was a tremendous “get” for BC. The Groton, Mass., native originally committed to Michigan, but eventually wanted to stay close to home. Dillon didn’t totally take over the carries until the eighth game of the season. His 272 yards against Louisville were the most for a freshman in the FBS this season and the seventh most by any back in a game in 2017.

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BC’s offensive line has obviously made strides since 2015, when head coach Steve Addazio canceled the spring game because of an insufficient number of offensive linemen to fill two rosters. There were injuries to navigate, kind of like Iowa’s OL, but BC finished third in the ACC in rushing (224.2 per game). During their successful November run, the Eagles averaged nearly 300 rushing yards a game (fifth in the nation during this stretch), 5.56 yards per carry and rushed for 10 TDs.

November was the best month for Iowa’s rush defense. The Hawkeyes ranked No. 38 in the country, allowing 135.5 yards a game. In September, Iowa was 57th in the nation in rush defense and 52nd in October.

Iowa’s rotation on the defensive line has paid dividends. All-American linebacker Josey Jewell is now almost three months removed from a shoulder injury that cost him a game.

This will be good-on-good and the winner of this matchup probably wins the game.

Advantage: Push

Iowa pass defense vs. Boston College pass offense

There are questions for BC here. The Eagles lost redshirt freshman quarterback Anthony Brown for the season when he suffered a torn ACL Nov. 13 against North Carolina State. Brown’s passing numbers weren’t hugely impressive, and BC’s pass offense did finish 13th in the ACC, averaging just 162.8 yards a game.

So, BC is probably used to dealing with stacked defensive fronts. Senior Darius Wade took over. He had a game (248 yards) against Syracuse (98th in the nation in pass defense), but averaged just 58.7 yards in nine games.

With a pass efficiency at 110.0 and ranking No. 115 in the country, BC doesn’t seem all that interested in passing and just might not have the experience at QB to deal with Iowa’s secondary, which ranks 12th in the nation holding opposing QBs to a pass efficiency of 110.5.

It doesn’t set up for BC to throw the ball, but it will have to try. Of course, Iowa has Jackson, who also leads the nation with 25 passes defended. But you saw the Purdue third quarter, when defensive coordinator Phil Parker rifled through three corners during a run of big plays that ultimately doomed the Hawkeyes. Can freshman Matt Hankins hold up?

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The Hawkeyes will be hurting on safety depth. Sophomore Amani Hooker (knee) will be back, but senior Miles Taylor (knee) is out.

Advantage: Iowa

Special teams

The Eagles’ punt and kick coverage units ranked in the upper half of the ACC. Wide receiver Michael Walker led the ACC with an incredible 13.7-yard average on 26 returns. Walker was fifth in the league as a kick returner, averaging 24.3 yards on 31 returns.

Punter Mike Knoll has placed 33 punts inside the opponent’s 20 and has 13 punts of 50-plus yards. Kicker Colton Lichtenberg is just 10 of 17 on field goals, but has five in the 40-49 yard range.

Iowa’s punt and kick coverage was outstanding this season. The punt unit finished fifth in the Big Ten (5.1 yards a return) and kick coverage was No. 2 (16.8 per return).

Punters Colten Rastetter and Ryan Gersonde struggled. Rastetter finished 14th in the B1G with 38.4 per punt. Iowa placed just 12 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.

Kicker Miguel Recinos was a weapon. He made 9 of 11 field goals, including 4 of 4 from 40 to 49 yards. He’s made 6 of his last 7 attempts, but hasn’t tried a field goal since Ohio State on Nov. 4. Between 32 touchbacks (third in the B1G) and an uncanny feel for hanging a kickoff in the air and placing it, Recinos should get a ton of credit for Iowa’s kick coverage.

Advantage: Push

Intangibles

1. Who wants to be here? — I’m going with BC on this. “Our fan base, from what I understand from the Yankees has really come through, selling our boxes and selling our tickets,” Addazio said. “I think that’s going really well, which is really exciting. That’s what makes a bowl game special when you can have a big travel contingency.

“So my anticipation in New York will be we’ll have a great following from Boston College who will be there and be excited, and it will energize our team.”

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Meanwhile, Iowa’s early ticket count hovered at less than 1,000 and the number of spirit squad members going to the bowl has been cut down.

2. Weight of the bowl — Iowa’s recent bowl history has been a disaster. You know about the five consecutive defeats, but the thing that gets you the most is how punchless Iowa has been in these matchups. Last year, 30-3 to Florida and 55 passing yards. In 2016 at the Rose Bowl, Stanford ran a play in which it faked a fumble and Iowa lost 45-16. The 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl has been called the “HawkSlayer” Bowl by Iowa people. The 2014 Outback vs. LSU was a slow-bleed 21-14 defeat.

Will this team press too hard to get one of the program’s biggest gorillas off its back? It might.

3. Yankee Stadium — It’s kind of funky and kind of cool to play a football game in a storied baseball venue. Why is it cool? Talking to Iowa players, they’re open to that unique experience. I still don’t think this bowl is a good idea. I don’t see it ever gaining traction with the Big Ten crowd. The conference still is midwest-based. Sorry, big-idea people, it just is. And no beaches.

Iowa-Boston College prediction

BC will win if ... it holds Iowa to less than 100 rushing yards. That’s in play and has been all season for Iowa’s offense. It’s why Iowa’s offense is ranked No. 108 in the country in total offense.

Iowa will win if ... it wins the line of scrimmage. That’s going to be a tough task. This is BC’s best punch.

Prediction: Iowa 21, Boston College 20

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