Penn State has jumped out to halftime leads of at least four points in every game this season, but the Nittany Lions find themselves entering conference play with just a 2-2 record.
The Lions have outscored their opponents 35-0 in the first quarter this season and 55-9 in the first half overall. But Penn State has been outscored 52-33 in the second half, which has caused two losses and brought the Temple game to within two possessions in the fourth quarter.
A potential reason for this trend could be focus, or a lack thereof in the second half.
Linebacker Mike Hull said the team comes out with a spirited intensity to start every game, but maintaining it is the hard part.
“We just go out every week and try to play hard,” Hull said. “We’re really focused in the first half of games, and we want to make a statement. We just need to carry that over to the second half.”
The defense has used this energy to its advantage in the first half this season, not allowing a single touchdown in the first two quarters so far.
Defensive lineman Jordan Hill said the declining production within games certainly hasn’t been a result of a decrease in effort. Simply being able to translate what the defense has done early in games to the second half will be crucial moving forward, he said.
“We don’t want anybody to score on us at all,” Hill said. “Any touchdown, we’re upset about it. For us not to give up a first-half touchdown, that’s big because that’s how you start off a game. If we could finish how we start, that would be real big for us.”
Meanwhile, the offense has suffered similar blunders later in games. In its losses, Penn State has scored just nine second-half points combined.
Despite a slight improvement in the offense’s ability to close games in recent weeks, coach Bill O’Brien said he would still enjoy seeing more of a sustained effort to close out games.
“On the flip side of that now, when we go in at halftime, we got to come out and do a better job in the second half, especially getting off to another fast start,” O’Brien said.
Of course, altering the playbook to run out the clock has most likely played a part in the decline in offensive production in the past two games. For instance, O’Brien called 27 rushes in the second half against Temple compared to just 12 passes.
However, the Lions will most likely need to succeed in this type of setting if they want to close out more potent conference opponents moving forward.
“We are thinking about different ways to get ourselves kick started in the second half, because it’s a four-quarter game,” O’Brien said. “It’s great to start the game well, but it’s really how you finish the game.”