It goes without saying that starting well on the road can be a huge key to victory, especially against quality opponents. So as Penn State travels to Columbus this weekend to take on Ohio State, it could be as much about the opening 15 minutes as the final five.
The question, can the Nittany Lions get off on the right foot, and can quarterback Sean Clifford turn in a more consistent opening quarter effort.
So far this season Penn State has played four games on road of varying degrees of difficulty and have gotten varying performances from its first year starter. Most recently against Minnesota, Clifford started 2-for-8 while throwing one interception en route to Penn State's first loss of the season.
In total Clifford is averaging just three completions on the road in the opening quarter, although he has only passed more than eight times in that quarter on one occasion. In turn he also produced his most efficient opening road quarter of the season on that one occasion.
"From high school I was always that vocal guy but at the same time I calm myself down a little bit more at the beginning and I thought it paid dividends throughout the whole game," Clifford said earlier in the season.
"I wasn't as tired," Clifford added. "I'm a very fiery competitor, so I think this game was good to learn how to hone some of that early but at the same time still get guys excited and showing guys that I'm ready to lead. At the same time being more calm in situations when I don't need to get so excited so that way the third, fourth quarter, I'm ready to go, more relaxed."
The good news for Penn State, Clifford has eased into the game as it has gone along, and despite his up and down performances, the Nittany Lions have still managed to score at least one first quarter touchdown in three of their four road games. Also to his credit, 16 of Clifford's 24 passes of 25+ yards have happened in the first half.
- Minnesota: 2-8 for 43 yards and an interception
- Michigan State: 7-for-10 for 67 yards and a touchdown.
- Iowa: 0-for-4
- Maryland: 3-for-3 for 116 yards and a touchdown.
"I think that's evolving," Franklin said of his quarterback handling the emotions of a game. "When you're a first-time starter, that's very different than being a returning starter or a three-year starter, whatever it may be. It is."
"I think he's kind of gone on this journey of finding the sweet spot of what's right for him. Some guys need to be really emotional and play with that edge and that chip. Other guys are going to be calm, cool and collected. Other guys are going to be in between. That's different for everybody. I think Sean has been on that journey this year, finding that sweet spot for himself. This week and the emotions, I don't see it a whole lot different. I do think him going on the road to Iowa and having success helps him. I think going on the road to Minnesota and not having success handled the right way helps him."
There's little doubt Penn State's path to victory on Saturday will involve a lot more than one quarter and take far more effort than what Clifford can do on his own.
But the Nittany Lions starting off on the right foot will go a long way, and Clifford saving his best road opening quarter of the regular season for last certainly wouldn't hurt the cause.