Penn State Shines As Second-Half Team Once Again
Following the upset win over No. 2 Ohio State, Penn State had a lackluster opening half — heading into the break tied 17-17. It took over during the second half, putting up 45 points on the way to a 62-24 win.
It’s not the first time this year Penn State took charge in the second half after leaving much to be desired in the opening thirty minutes of play.
There was the opening game of the season, when the Nittany Lions had just a three-point lead at home on Kent State before shutting out the Golden Flashes on the way to a 33-13 win. There was also the Pitt, when Penn State charged back from a two-touchdown halftime deficit and fell just one drive short of taking out the Panthers. Then there was the second half comeback against Minnesota that started this four-game winning streak — a quiet first half turned second half shootout where the Nittany Lions prevailed in overtime.
After the win, James Franklin addressed the team’s knack for propelling forward in the second half.
“I don’t want to say we’re a second half team because we’re trying to change that,” Franklin said. “We’ve done a better job of that recently, but today it helped coming in telling the guys ‘no worries, stick to the plan. We’re a second half team. We’re going to come out and make some adjustments.'”
The team’s first half issue has varied week-to-week, and Trace McSorley believes the team’s ability to adjust regardless of the problem comes from the many leaders on both sides of the ball in the locker room.
“It’s a group of guys that are the voice of the team,” McSorley said. “It’s the leadership on our team, the seniors, the guys in leadership positions that know when something needs to be said. Somebody’s got to stand up and say it. Out of all the guys that we have, it creates a really good nucleus for our team.”
McSorley went on to name guys like Brian Gaia, Saquon Barkley, Brandon Bell, Marcus Allen, and himself among others on this list of leaders. The point being, whichever part of their game is struggling, the Nittany Lions have someone ready to stand up and take charge in the second half.
The first half struggles today were more defensive than offensive.
The offense opened the game with an 85-yard scoring drive and managed to get points on three of its five first half drives. The difference in offensive production during the first and second half is that the Nittany Lions managed to get the ball in its offense’s hands more often in the second half.
During the first half, the defense couldn’t get Purdue off the field. The Boilermakers managed to put up points in each of their first three drives. The total time of possession for Purdue was 17:40 by the end of the first half, more than five minutes greater than Penn State’s.
The big change started during that Purdue opening drive in the second half. Brandon Smith came up with an interception on the opening set of downs to put the offense in scoring position just a minute into the half. The trend continued as Penn State’s defense forced three-and-outs and turnovers throughout the half to allow its offense to have more opportunities.
Coming off its big upset last week, it would be fair to say Penn State came out flat because of the excitement the upset created. Franklin didn’t believe his team struggled to move on from its big moment last week. Instead, he felt a different problem may have plagued the Nittany Lions early.
“I didn’t have a sense that we weren’t in the right mindset,” Franklin said. “I wasn’t worried about the last game carrying over to this game. I was worried about going from the White Out, which was as good of an environment in all of college football, and this was going to be a little bit different than that.”
To say the atmosphere was a little different is definitely an understatement. With the student section nearly empty and large chunks of the stadium barren, Penn State may have gone from playing in its most hyped game of the year to its most lulled game of the season.
Regardless of the reason, Penn State managed to weather the storm and grab its sixth victory to become bowl eligible. Ranked No. 24 with a 6-2 record, the Nittany Lions are as successful as they’ve been in the post-Joe Paterno era. If wins like these have to come because of a proven second half surge, so be it.