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Penn State Football: Second Half Adjustments Making The Difference Early In Season

by on October 06, 2016 1:50 PM

For as much as Penn State football has lamented the lack of fast starts to its games, it may very well be the second half adjustments that are the most important part to the Nittany Lions' 3-2 record.

In four of the five games so far this season it has been the final 30 minutes of play that have made the difference. Avoiding a slow start is key, but finding a way to counter what your opponent is doing is in the end, what the game is all about. And Penn State has been able to do that, outscoring opponents in the second half on a regular basis. While the Nittany Lions are -38 against opponents in the first half, Penn State is +26 against its foes in the second.

Why the sudden change in fortune? Some good old fashion halftime adjustments with a team full of young players.

"I don't want to keep bringing it up, but when we have time to get with these guys in the locker room and settle them down and show them some of the adjustments that need to be made," James Franklin said earlier this week. "Where sometimes with older players, they are going to get settled down quicker and they are going to make the adjustments quicker during the game. You can make an adjustment on the sideline quicker and it translates right to the game. Where our guys, sometimes we have to spend time in the locker room and talk it through with more detail and more time; that sometimes you're able to get done in between series."

This -as problematic as it might be- is a fairly reasonable and likely explanation. Against Pitt it was the jet sweep that seemed to fool a young defensive front, in the second half it was fairly ineffective. In the first half against Minnesota, Penn State didn't try many throws down the field. In the second half it was a staple of the offense and the Nittany Lion's comeback.

The sign of progress then becomes turning that second half success into first half points. Something that not only cures Penn State's first half woes, but turns potential comebacks into much simpler and easier games to win.

"Again, I think as the season goes on, you're going to see these guys continue to play with more confidence, be able to make adjustments," Franklin added. "But we have a lot of guys that are seeing things for the first time, and you know, that's what happens. No different than you guys in your jobs as you've been through something before, you can react or change or adjust quicker than you would have done the first time going through it."

In the meantime Franklin is content to try and find unique ways to ignite that first half success. Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead's offense is hardly short on aggression, but finding any edge, even a mental one, can help make up for youth and inexperience. At least in theory.

"Our approach has been aggressive in trying to take the ball, trying to go for it on fourth down, trying to do some things, what I've been trying to do as the head coach trying to spark some early success. A lot of times we would defer in the past; we are trying to take the ball more in the first half now, going for it on fourth down as much as everybody loved those decisions, going for two point conversion in the opening game as much as everybody loves. But there are those decisions. When they go well, you're a genius and everybody's patting you on the back and when you don't pick up the fourth and one and you don't get the two-point conversion, it's the wrong decision after the fact. I get that."

Regardless Penn State's ability to change in the second half is a positive sign even if the first half success still isn't there. A team that can't adjust is a problem, a team that takes a while to adjust is far from ideal, but a good problem to have as long as the time it takes continues to decrease.

And going up against a Maryland team that has put up tons of points this season, adjusting quickly might be the difference between 4-2 and 3-3 heading into the bye week.

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