Something about halftime doesn’t sit right with Penn State.
Maybe it’s the band.
“In the NFL, [halftime] is bang, bang, bang,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “There are no bands. When you're playing the Jets, there are no bands. And that's not a shot at the [Blue Band]. I love the band, obviously, so it's about a 20-minute halftime, and that's what we try to do, and we make adjustments.”
For whatever reason, those adjustments haven’t been translating to points for the Nittany Lions. They’ve been outscored 147-123 in the second half this season.
Opponents’ success against Penn State in the final 30 minutes comes as an even bigger surprise, considering the Lions’ domination of opponents in the first 30. Penn State has outscored opponents 157-39 in the first half — more than four times as many points.
In the first quarter, that score is 83-6 — more than 13 times as many points. Penn State hadn’t even allowed a single score in the first quarter until Nov. 3, when Purdue struck first with a field goal.
O’Brien couldn’t put a finger on exactly what he thinks is causing the Lions to lose momentum out of the locker room. He said it was “probably more of a discussion for after the season.”
“We can do better things coaching, I'm sure,” he added. “I think we've moved the ball in those games but just haven't scored or maybe turned it over, something like that,” he said.
The players are just as baffled. In each of the Lions’ four losses, they’ve blown a lead or a tie at the break.
“For whatever reason, we've had success in the first quarter, and I just think that we just need to do a better job maintaining our focus in the third quarter,” tackle Mike Farrell said. “But, by no means do I feel that we come out flat out of half time or anything like that. But that is definitely an area where we need to improve in these last two games when we have opportunities to do so.”
Statistically, the biggest-drop off falls on the Lions’ defense. They are the best first-half defense in the nation, allowing opponents an average of only 3.9 points. In the second half, that number more than triples to 14.7 points — good for 79th in the nation.
Only Purdue, Illinois and Indiana have worse second half defenses in the Big Ten. The Lions have beaten the both Boilermakers and the Fighting Illini by 25 points or more, and the Hoosiers come to Happy Valley this Saturday.
“At the end of the day, with the kicking game and with the offense, we've got to find points to win on the road, win Big Ten games, have any chance against Penn State,” Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. “That's going to be a tremendous challenge because they're well-coached, good players, but you're not going to score seven or 10 or 14 points and win an old-fashioned Big Ten game. That's not our style, and it's not the style they play, so it's going to be a challenge.”
Before Wisconsin decimated Indiana last week, 62-14, the Hoosiers had a legitimate chance at representing the Leaders Division in the Big Ten Championship Game, as both Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible.
While the Hoosiers have lost to teams as unimpressive as Navy, they nearly beat Ohio State a couple of weeks ago. They scored 35 points in the second half of that game alone.
Indiana also came close to knocking off Michigan State on Oct. 6, but its second half offense sputtered in that game. The Spartans surged back from a 17-point deficit to win, helped along the way by the Hoosiers’ zero second half points.
Linebacker Glenn Carson said the Lions are prepping as if the Hoosiers will show up Saturday. To do that, he said the Lions have to play 60 minutes.
“Obviously, we want to stay consistent throughout the whole game and you know, on the other end of that, we come out and play really well in the first quarter, first half,” Carson said. “And we just need to continue doing that throughout the whole game.”