Second-Half Offensive Surge Key To Penn State Football’s Win Over Wisconsin
Penn State football opened its season Saturday afternoon with a 16-10 win over Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium in Wisconsin.
It was a battle of the defenses in the first half, as the two teams went into the break still scoreless. Penn State’s offense totaled just 43 yards and converted one first down in the first 30 minutes of action.
However, after some halftime adjustments, Penn State’s offense finally starting clicking in the second half to the tune of 254 total yards and 16 points. After the game, head coach James Franklin credited Wisconsin’s defense for his squad’s first-half struggles.
“This is a really good defense,” Franklin said. “Coach [Jim] Leonhard does a great job. They’ve been top five in defense the last couple of years. Their linebackers were super aggressive and downhill, which made it hard to stay on double teams to get movement. And then we didn’t get off on the downhill linebackers a couple of times as well.”
The difference between the two halves, according to Franklin, was getting the ball outside and hitting on explosive plays. Overall, Penn State won the explosive play battle (plays of 20+ yards) 5-1, including three plays of 40+ yards.
“Once we made that adjustment, we knew we had to get the ball on the perimeter, whether that was with outside zone or whether that’s even with the bubbles on the perimeter, which essentially are the run game,” Franklin said. “The explosive plays, getting the ball down the field to [Jahan Dotson], that was big. We probably could have hit a few more, we’ll get that cleaned up. We gotta get him touches earlier in the game because we see the type of player he can be.”
Jahan Dotson was responsible for two of the explosive plays today, including a 49-yard touchdown early in the third quarter.
Dotson said after the game that when he, Sean Clifford, and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich talked at halftime, they knew the big plays were coming and that they would capitalize on opportunities.
Something both Dotson and Clifford spoke about is the confidence Yurcich instilled in them throughout the game and at halftime. There was never panic. Instead, there was continued optimism even when the team was struggling and wasn’t fully clicking.
“He’s a really good coach,” Clifford said. “He didn’t blink an eye. He just told us, like I said, ‘It’s just a matter of time.’ And that’s really how this is.”
“He’s literally a mastermind,” Dotson said. “He has an answer for every situation we’re in. He said in the locker room that he’s got us. We had his back. We knew he was going to put us in great situations to make plays, and that’s what he did.”
Clifford and Dotson led the way for Penn State offensively in Saturday’s game, which is hardly a surprise considering the success the two have had together. Clifford threw for 247 yards, one touchdown, and most importantly, zero interceptions. Dotson hauled in five receptions worth 102 yards and a touchdown.
As far as Clifford’s performance is concerned, Franklin liked what he saw from the signal-caller in the second half after the struggles the offense went through in the first half.
“In the second half he made a bunch of plays early on,” Franklin said. “When you’re not running the ball and it’s 3rd and long, it makes for a tough situation for any quarterback, but he got hit too many times [in the first half]… Most importantly, he was gutsy, and he kept battling and made plays when we needed to in the second half to get a win.”
The turnaround in the second half had much to do with the aforementioned explosive plays, but also the emergence of Penn State’s run game.
The Nittany Lions had two, yes two, rushing yards in the first half. While 48 yards on the ground in the second half isn’t anything to write home about, it kept the defense honest and allowed the passing game to open up.
Running back Noah Cain contributed to Penn State’s offensive success down the stretch of the game. Cain broke off a 34-yard run in the fourth quarter and then converted a key third down on a 13-yard connection with Clifford a few plays later. Additionally, Cain scored one of Penn State’s two touchdowns on a two-yard run in the fourth quarter.
After losing Cain to an injury for almost all of 2020, Franklin and Clifford sure were happy to have the “Cain Train” back.
“He just has a way to slip arm tackles, to get positive yards, some of those plays late in the game on the sideline in the passing game and in the running game, where he broke a tackle and got extra yards, were huge for us,” Franklin said.
“The Cain Train is back, baby,” Clifford said. “It was exciting to see him break a couple and then get the couple gritty runs that everyone knows him by.”
Penn State will attempt to carry its offensive momentum into next week when it faces off against Ball State in its home opener at Beaver Stadium.
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