The phrase "halftime adjustments" is an interesting one because it inherently implies that adjustments during the game are difficult to make.
And for some teams they are, you see it at every level of football, but most often with college teams. An offense will struggle with something in the first half and come out firing in the second. Sometimes that's simply execution, but often it's a small change or tweak.
Penn State is no different, in fact its 2016 Big Ten Title team was the epitome of this. While players and coaches didn't entirely enjoy the label, it's hard to argue the figures: Penn State scored more points in the second half than the first half in 10 of its games.
Second half team it is.
But what exactly is the challenge? Most of the time it's youth. Younger teams tend to run into this issue because they are less experienced, much like Penn State was in 2016. Similarly when 2017 rolled around the Nittany Lions were much better equipped for in-game changes and their scoring distribution showed it. Adjustments aren't the only reason teams score early and often, but the ability to adapt to what your opponent is doing is key to staying ahead of them or catching up.
Asked about the obstacles that come with making adjustments with a younger team, James Franklin went into great detail, divided up here by concept.
"I think the biggest thing is getting guys, young guys that are on the sideline, that are emotional, that there's offense going on, there's JumboTrons going on, the fans are going crazy and you're on the sideline with a grease board talking about what they are doing and where I probably need to do a better job of articulating this: It's not just the coaches."
"It's not just the coaches making adjustments to the players. The first thing is getting feedback from the players. And what's amazing is as players get older, the more accurate information you get -- right now with Michal Menet, when he comes to the sideline, he can tell us exactly what's happening and it aligns with exactly what they are telling us if the booth, because sometimes what we are hearing in the booth isn't exactly happening."
"So when you're able to connect those two things -- making the adjustments is getting the informs from the player and also being able to make the adjustments based on what's being told in the booth and being able to digest that information and translate it on to the field when the JumboTrons are going and the noise is going and the play is going, and there's noise and fans and stuff everywhere. And as you know, in some ways, it may be better to make the adjustments, have all of them bring their cell phones and do it that way because they are not use the to eye-to-eye contact and conversations."
"I just think that comes with time. It comes with time to get really valuable, accurate information from them about what's happening and then also for us to be able to take the information from them and what we're being told in the booth and then make the adjustments, because the other information is how they playing how we thought they were playing. On first and second down, this is what we expect them to be; third down, this is what we expect them to be; red zone, this is what we expect them to be.
Now, early in the game, are they playing to what our studies have showed us, or do they have a game plan that they have been working on all summer, specifically for this game, and they are going to show us things that we have not seen before. And you need to find that information out as soon as you possibly can."
THE VALUE OF SCRIPTING:
"That's why a lot of people script the opening drive of a game. Well, why do you do that? Because you think these are your best plays in the game, but it's also, you want to line up in empty once to find out as soon as possible, are they lining up to empty how we thought, and into the FIB-formation into the boundary how we thought. If you can show all these the 10-personnel, 11-personnel, whatever it may be, now you can find out quickly, are they playing how we thought they would play. If you don't line up in empty until the fourth quarter, you don't know if they are following the empty playing that we have."
"So a lot of times when people script, they are scripting out all those situations to find out as soon as you can, are they playing how they we thought they were going to play in all these different situations. Does that make sense?"
"And all that information, you're trying to get so we can make great decisions, but you're also trying to get the information from the players and then give them valuable information back that they can digest and put to work as quickly as possible on the field."
Is there a quick fix to this? It's hard to say, Penn State was still a second half team by the conclusion of 2016, but ultimately the Nittany Lions' halftime deficit against Buffalo had as much to do with poor execution as anything else. Football is in many ways no different than any other sport, you might be surprised by a few plays, see something unexpected and have to adjust, but all things being equal the team that executes better often wins.
And that's an adjustment you don't need to wait until halftime for.