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Penn State Football: Drive Start Average Key To Recent Nittany Lion Success

by on November 07, 2019 1:45 PM

Starting fast is easier when the field is shorter.

Over the past two games Penn State has scored on seven of its 13 first half drives while starting eight of those 13 drives on its own 34 or better. The result  has given the Nittany Lions a comfortable lead and the advantage of playing from ahead in the second half instead of from behind.

How does that happen? A lot of things come into play, but one factor has contributed above all else: Drive start average.

"I think that's going to be important Saturday, these guys are used to playing with a lead," Penn State coach James Franklin said of Minnesota following practice earlier this week. "They're used to being able to get a lead, whether it's seven or 14, [and] be able to beat the clock up and dominate the clock."

The good news for Penn State, the Gophers haven't seen a defense quite as good as the Nittany Lions' this year, nor have they come up against an offense with quite as many weapons.

As for Penn State's drive starts, the Nittany Lions have averaged starting out on their own 33, a whole 10 yards better than their opponent each of the past two games.

"However, it's worked out whether we have had the ball or whether we've had our defense on the field. Our defense is playing lights out in the first quarter," Franklin added. "Our offense is playing really well too. But we've been able to really have good field position from our defense and from special teams. Our offense in advantageous situations we've been really good offense. So I think that goes back to the complimentary football that we've talked about."

Penn State drive starts location/results: 

Against Michigan

  • PSU 20: Punt
  • PSU 34: TD
  • PSU 36: TD
  • PSU 29: Punt
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  • Mich 49: TD
  • PSU 25: Punt
  • PSU 41: Punt

Against Michigan State

  • PSU 19: Punt
  • PSU 38: TD
  • PSU 14: TD
  • PSU 36: Punt
  • PSU 46: Punt
  • MSU 44: TD

"The defense is setting up the offense, the special teams are setting up the offense. The offense is really setting up the defense because even the drives that we haven't scored, we've moved the ball pretty well, and been able to flip the field and been able to do those types of things," Franklin added.

And he's right, over the past two games Penn State's opponent has had a drive starting beyond its own 26 just twice in 12 attempts. On the whole Michigan and Michigan State's first half drives started on average at their own 23, a whole 10 fewer yards than Penn State's offense did.

Even when they moved the ball the sledding was tough, Penn State has outscored its opponent 42-7 in the opening 20 minutes of play while both Michigan and Michigan State missed a field goal in the process.

So if Minnesota wants to pull off the upset Saturday, the first objective is easier said than done so far in 2019: Beat Penn State in the field position battle first.

By the numbers:

  • Penn State first half drive start average: own 33.3 
  • Opponent first half drive start average: own 23.1
  • Penn State first half drives starting at own 34 or better: 8-of-13
  • Opponent first half drives starting at own 25 or worse: 9-of-12
  • Scoring margin: Penn State 42-7


Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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