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Penn State Utilizes Halftime Adjustments In Much-Needed Victory Over Maryland

Penn State football’s first 30 minutes at Capital One Field At Maryland Stadium Saturday night were frustrating, to say the very least.

Thanks to a missed extra point on Maryland’s end, the Nittany Lions held just a one-point lead over the Terrapins and were struggling to muster any sort of momentum on offense. Outside of a pretty connection to Jahan Dotson, James Franklin’s group largely came out flat with a three-game losing streak in tow. It clearly wasn’t the same group that hung with a talented Ohio State squad last weekend in Columbus, and the Nittany Lions were well aware of that.

The closing moments of the first half were the epitome of the frustrating start. Penn State had the ball with more than a minute left and three timeouts, but elected to run the clock out rather than pushing for a score before heading to the locker room.

“Obviously, in the first half, things weren’t as clean as we wanted them to be,” James Franklin said postgame. “We had multiple opportunities to put some points on the board and we just missed some throws…We obviously weren’t as efficient as we needed to be on the offensive side of the ball.”

Sean Clifford, who finished his night with 363 yards through the air, managed 155 yards through the first two quarters. However, the veteran quarterback did miss on a few throws. Meanwhile, a couple of key drops highlighted Penn State’s offensive struggles through the early stages of Saturday’s win.

Efficiency was the name of the game in an explosive second half, however. Jahan Dotson clearly led the way on offense with his record-breaking 242 receiving yards and three scores, and his 21-yard touchdown to open the second half helped set the tone for the group.

In his 29th game starting at quarterback for the Nittany Lions, Clifford noted that having patience in letting his group get into its rhythm was key.

“We left a lot of points up on the board in the first half, just because we had opportunities and we didn’t convert,” Clifford said. “Myself — a bunch of guys — we didn’t make the big plays in the first half.

“That’s probably why I’m so proud of our team. We didn’t let that get to us. We responded and then right away, came back out in the second half and made the plays when they were there,” Clifford added.

The Dotson-Clifford connection was on full display during that second-half run, but even Penn State’s running backs started to find their rhythm. Considering the year it’s been for that group, fairly efficient nights for Keyvone Lee and Noah Cain were a welcomed sight. Lee, who earned 50 yards on a night that included two double-digit yardage plays, averaged 6.2 yards per carry.

Both of Lee’s explosive rushes, worth 15 and 11 yards, came in the second half.

“We knew what we could do. We were moving the ball the whole first half, so we knew we could get it going,” Clifford added.

While the offense found its groove eventually, Brent Pry’s defense allowed just one touchdown through the first half. Despite that, a couple of big plays for Taulia Tagovailoa and the Terps were cause for adjustments on that side of the ball for Penn State, as well.

“We felt like we could’ve been a lot better, to be honest,” Ellis Brooks said. “We gave up a long drive near the end of that half where we got on our heels a little bit…We like being stout in the red zone and we didn’t hold up the way we needed to. We just try to control what we can control, focus on the things that we need to do to be better.”

Brooks was critical of himself and the rest of the unit, but the veteran linebacker finished his night with seven total tackles — including 0.5 for a loss. Meanwhile, safety Ji’Ayir Brown finished tied for a team-leading nine tackles. “Tiig,” as his coaches and teammates call him, also grabbed a key fumble recovery that halted Maryland in the red zone early in the third quarter, and snagged the game-sealing pick six.

Brown was clearly one of the top beneficiaries of halftime adjustments for the Nittany Lions, as his two forced turnovers were top moments on the defensive side of the ball for Penn State.

“Coach Pry came in there [at halftime] and he said we needed to get more gritty…We needed to play with more passion,” Brown said. “We came out there and we wanted to execute for Coach Pry.”

Maryland actually gained many more yards in the second half than it did in the first — 267 compared to just 152, to be exact. However, Penn State’s “bend but don’t break” defense was on full display against a talented quarterback in Tagovailoa.

With games against Michigan and Michigan State remaining, Penn State’s finish to the season is still surrounded with questions. The Nittany Lions clearly still have holes, notably on the offensive side of the ball. However, their ability to come out firing after a snoozer of a first half was a clear reminder of what their ceiling is as November football rolls on.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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