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Penn State Football: Nittany Lions Limit Mistakes And Make Plays In Second Half Of Victory

by on September 14, 2014 2:00 PM

Mistakes will kill you.

A holding penalty nearly cost Penn State Saturday night's game against Rutgers. An illegal forward pass by Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova essentially did for the Scarlet Knights.

One play, one decision. It can make a difference no matter when it happens.

For Penn State it wasn't just about penalties on Saturday night. The Nittany Lions only committed five all evening to Rutgers' nine but pass drops, missed tackles and simple handoff errors came into play more than usual for an offense struggling to find its legs.

The difference in the second half -- a half where Penn State held Rutgers to three first downs and less than a 100 yards of offense -- was simple. They made fewer mistakes. And fewer mistakes equal more productive plays.

"Two things," James Franklin said after the game of his team's second half. "We made less mistakes and we made more plays. I mean, how many of those receiver screens did we just drop? It may not seem like much but it gets you six yards. A few we had the corner and the sideline was wide open. We made mistakes in the first half and we made less mistakes in the second. We made more plays. It's really that simple."

"I don't really see it a whole lot different than that."

And sometimes it's just that simple. Not all good decision have to be obvious ones either. Hackenberg was secure with the ball, running for yards when the opportunity was there instead of forcing the issue. Receivers didn't drop open passes, running backs held on to the ball and fought for extra yards. 

Meanwhile, Rutgers turned the ball over five times and committed a personal foul penalty that would extend a Penn State scoring drive. Two holding calls nearly doomed Penn State, but in the grand scheme, it was a cleaner and smarter second half for the Nittany Lions. And it paid off.

"Again, it's not like we started coaching things different," Franklin said. "It's the same thing, I thought that Hack was patient and didn't get frustrated or feel like he needed to do too much. He pulled the ball down and ran with it or he threw the ball away a couple times which is huge. They made smart plays."

Six plays of 15 or more yards in the second half would also make the difference for Penn State in the final 30 minutes of play. After sputtering and struggling to move the ball, the big plays were finally there for the Nittany Lions. And unlike the first half, they were able to capitalize on them, all 13 points coming in the game's final 19 minutes.

And it happened in a low scoring, ugly, scrappy game. The team making fewer mistakes and more big plays in the second half is almost always going to win.

"I'm just so proud of these kids, of this organization, because they persevere," Franklin said. "They're gritty, they're hard nosed. They never stop believing in Penn State. They never stop believing in themselves."

And now those kids are 3-0.

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