Are slow starts something Penn State will leave behind in 2017?
Penn State head coach James Franklin and offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead talk during practice on the Lasch fields on Aug. 31, 2016. Penn State will host Kent State in the season opener on Saturday at Beaver Stadium.Joe Hermitt, PennLive
Only one team, Toledo, scored more second half points per game in 2016 than Penn State did, according to TeamRankings.com.
The first half was a different story, though, with 63 teams lighting up the scoreboard more than the Lions on average over the first 30 minutes of play.
Those statistics are not necessarily needed except perhaps to serve as a refresher to what was seen over most of last fall: A bit or very much of a slow start followed by halftime adjustments and a second half Lions blowout.
It was a trend picked at by many throughout the 2016 season, even though some indicators said maybe the starts were not all that slow. More importantly, at least for last season’s sake, it did not matter because in the end, because the first half was often simply a warmup period for coordinator Joe Moorhead, quarterback Trace McSorley, and the rest of the offense to diagnose the opposing defense before exploiting them more often than not.
Winning tends to be easier when not playing from behind (same goes for improvements in another troublesome area: third downs), and fortunately for PSU, head coach James Franklin sees a natural way of fixing the stumbles out of the starting blocks.
“We were one of the younger teams in college football last year, and typically when people game plan, they’re going to show you things that they’ve been planning all week long that you haven’t seen before,” he said. “With an older, veteran team, you can adjust, and those guys can adjust quicker on the fly, where our guys we kind of had to get them into the locker room and settle them down.”
Hence, the aforementioned need for second half adjustments, which cannot completely be pitched out in 2017 (or ever).
Yet, the hope is that they can be mixed with in-game transitions with a roster that returns all but a few starters and key reserves, something that just is not as easy as it sounds like it should be when a team is playing a lot of young guys who have not seen some of the sophisticated schemes and looks that college coaches draw up and implement.
“That’s probably the biggest difference for me, and then there were times we were able to get the ball a little bit more consistently into Saquon [Barkley’s] hands, and that opened things up for us in a variety of different ways,” Franklin said.
Giving the ball to No. 26 usually solved plenty of problems, too, but not all of them, which is why starting quicker is still a focus heading into summer.