Penn State Football: Why the Nittany Lions Can't Close Games
It's been no secret that Penn State has been a phenomenal first-half team in 2012.
Not only are the Nittany Lions (6-4, 4-2 Big Ten) one of the Big Ten's best first-half teams, but they are among the nation's elite in this particular category.
On the season, the Lions have outscored opponents 157-39 in the first two quarters of games. That's simply incredible and would lock down early-game victories for most normal teams.
However, Penn State is far from your normal college football team.
In the team's four losses this year, Penn State is being outscored 89-28 in the second half (56-6 specifically in the third quarter).
So, how does such an impressive first-half squad allow blunders coming out of the locker room following halftime?
For one, a lack of depth has certainly taken a toll on the Lions.
Sure, the team lost 12 guys to transfers in the offseason as a result of the NCAA sanctions.
However, it's not just the departures of Silas Redd, Justin Brown and others that have hit the Lions' depth—it's injuries as well.
On offense, players like tight end Kyle Carter, who was declared out for the remainder of the season at Bill O'Brien's weekly press conference, have sustained debilitating injuries this year. Despite this, the offense still has been able to produce.
The true depth problem lies on defense.
In the secondary, many fans clamored for a nickel set before the season, but Penn State simply can't do it.
Secondary coach John Butler previously said he would love to run the nickel defense, but having six defensive backs wouldn't lend itself to a healthy, workable rotation.
With the lack of a nickel defense, the Lions defense has a difficult time containing opponents in third-down passing situations.
And for as talented as the front seven is, the anchor of the Lions defense has been exposed in the second half of the team's losses.
In dropped games against Ohio State and Nebraska, the front four, which has dealt with injuries to Pete Massaro, Jordan Hill and Sean Stanley, looked winded and worn down for most of the second half.
Ohio State's Braxton Miller (25 carries, 134 yards, 2 TDs) and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah (31 carries, 116 yards) pounded the Lions' front seven on play after play.
Not only have depth issues marred Penn State's second halves, but also halftime adjustments on the part of opposing coaches and a lack thereof from Bill O'Brien.
Here's what Bill O'Brien said at Monday's teleconference:
“We can do better things coaching, I'm sure, and, we just I think we've moved the ball in those games but just haven't scored or maybe turned it over, something like that.”
While O'Brien has always put a lot of the blame for things on the coaching, this time he may be right.
For example, as Nebraska clearly adjusted to what the Lions were doing offensively, the coaches didn't adjust to what the Huskers were doing: running the football.
Even though this is just one instance, Penn State has lost games because of a sheer lack of coaching adjustments and depth.
Yes, O'Brien and his staff have done a ridiculously good job this year, on and off the sidelines. But, could they make better adjustments? Definitely.
At 6-4 and with home games against Indiana and Wisconsin coming up to close the season, the Lions still have a chance to reach an 8-4 record—something that would have been laughed at before this season.
However, if Penn State wants to end this season with a favorable taste in its mouth, showing up in the second half is a must.
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