2014 Bowl Mania: Day 6 Recap

December 28, 2014

The first half of the bowl season has officially wrapped up as of Saturday night/early Sunday morning. It’s hard to believe that we’ve already made it through 18 games.

Yesterday was chalk full of bowl action and even I had trouble keeping up with all of it.

Let’s take a look at what transpired on December 27th.

Game Analysis

Military Bowl presented by Northrup Grumman

Result: Virginia Tech 33, Cincinnati 17

With Frank Beamer in the booth recovering from throat surgery and his son Shane on the sideline taking full control of head coaching duties, the Hokies came out inspired offensively and stunned the Bearcats. J.C. Coleman’s 157 rushing yards led the way for Virginia Tech, which took advantage of a Cincinnati run defense that allowed at least 200 yards on the ground five times during the regular season. An injury in the middle of the third quarter to Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel didn’t do the Bearcats any favors, but at that point it was already becoming apparent that the Virginia Tech rushing attack was going to be difficult to stop.

The victory preserved a streak of 22 seasons with a winning record for the elder Beamer, who was probably more than happy to allow his son the opportunity to lift the hardware at the end of this one.

Hyundai Sun Bowl

Result: Arizona State 36, Duke 31

You have to feel for the Blue Devils, who came painstakingly close to capturing a bowl win but came up just short for the third time in as many years. The Sun Devils could never fully shake Duke, who came back from a 20-3 deficit midway through the second quarter to take a brief 31-30 lead with about five minutes left in the game. But the athleticism of Arizona State played a big role both on the go-ahead touchdown drive and the game sealer, an interception in the endzone by cornerback Kweishi Brown.

Duke has a lot of smart players who are extremely well-coached. It was almost enough to secure a bowl victory for the first time since 1961.

Duck Commander Independence Bowl

Result: South Carolina 24, Miami 21

If there was a game this bowl season that a head coach appeared to have complete faith in his athletes to make plays, then it would be Steve Spurrier in the Independence Bowl. The Dylan Thompson to Pharoh Cooper hookup proved deadly in this one, with Cooper grabbing nine receptions for 170 yards as well as one of Thompson’s two passing touchdowns. There wasn’t a whole lot else going on than simple throw and catch, as Cooper simply found open space and took advantage.

Miami didn’t roll over and die by any means, but it was clear that the Hurricanes couldn’t stop Cooper in this one. The Ole Ball Coach avoided his first losing season since he coached at Duke back in 1987 with this victory.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl

Result: Penn State 31, Boston College 30 (OT)

What was supposed to be a defensive battle turned into a coming out party for Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenburg, who threw for four touchdowns and a career high 371 yards on 50 attempts. As for Boston College, 100+ yard rushing performances by both quarterback Tyler Murphy and running back Jon Hilliman was impressive against a defense that was allowing fewer than 90 yards per game on the ground.

While this was a terrific game, it will be best remembered for one of the worst plays of the evening. After scoring the go-ahead touchdown in overtime, kicker Mike Knoll shanked the extra point attempt for the Eagles. This allowed the Nittany Lions to boot one through for the victory and give Penn State its first bowl win since 2009.

National University Holiday Bowl

Result: Southern California 45, Nebraska 42

Lots of scoring in this one, which was no surprise. But what was surprising is that Tommy Armstrong Jr. was actually the player keeping the Cornhuskers in this game, not Ameer Abdullah. Armstrong played very well, completing 62.7 percent of his passes, by far the best performance of the season for him considering that he threw the ball 51 times. The Trojans did not look prepared for Armstrong’s arm and paid the price for it time and time again.

It would have been a bad way for Southern Cal to end the season had it lost to the heavy underdog Cornhuskers. At the same time, this result is a good sign for the Big Ten, whose best teams all beat the Cornhuskers with the exception of Ohio State, which did not play Nebraska.

Conference Trends

Stock Down – American Athletic Conference

Cincinnati’s loss in the Military Bowl puts the conference at 1-2 overall this bowl season. At first glance it doesn’t appear all that bad (the ACC is 2-4) until you take into account the fact that the three teams who have played thus far are the three co-champions of the AAC. Memphis squeaked by a BYU team that lost its starting quarterback halfway through the season and both UCF and Cincinnati were overwhelmed by ACC offenses.

Two more bowl games that won’t receive a lot of attention are unlikely to change the AAC’s stock too much. What is clear this year is that the powers that be made the right decision to ax the conference’s automatic bid to a prestigious bowl game.

Top Individual Performances

Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina wide receiver

To say that Cooper was South Carolina’s passing game in the Independence Bowl isn’t the most blatant journalistic liberty ever taken. The sophomore accounted for nine receptions, which nearly matched the 13 by all other Gamecocks receivers combined. His 170 receiving yards made up 57.8 percent of the total passing yards thrown by Dylan Thompson. And his 78-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter was really the turning point for the South Carolina offense, which had not scored up to that point and was struggling immensely.

As the second leading receiver in the SEC in terms of yards per game behind Amari Cooper this season, expect the younger Cooper to become the next household name in the conference with regards to wideouts starting in 2015.

Christian Hackenburg, Penn State quarterback

Who would have guessed that Hackenberg would throw for more touchdowns than any other quarterback on a Saturday filled with five bowl games? The sophomore tacked on four more to his season total to creep much closer to a 1-1 touchdown to interception ratio, ending 2014 at 12 touchdowns to 15 interceptions. While Boston College’s one defensive weakness was against the pass, few predicted that Penn State’s signal caller would take advantage like he did.

It was a gritty victory for the Nittany Lions at Yankee Stadium and the team has Hackenberg to thank for keeping them in the game. Without his breakout performance, there is little doubt that Boston College would have won this game.

– K. Becks

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