Halftime, Penn State's new coach quickly realized or remembered this season, is a different animal in college football than it is in the NFL.
Penn State has let three halftime leads turn into losses in its first season under Bill O'Brien.
"When you're playing the Jets," Bill O'Brien said Tuesday, "there are no bands."
The first several minutes after halftime this season have often been a good indicator of whether or Penn State will win the game. When the Nittany Lions out-score their opponent in the third quarter, they are 4-0. When they score as many points in that period as their opponent, they are 1-0. When they are out-scored in the third quarter, however, they are 1-4.
In Penn State's last two losses, to Ohio State and Nebraska, the opposition was able to seize momentum in a big way in the third period (Matt McGloin threw a costly interception deep in his own territory on Penn State's first possession of the half in each game) and hold on to it throughout the second half. The Nittany Lions needed a 22-point fourth quarter to pull out a win over Northwestern, the only time in which they've lost the third quarter but won the game this season.
Neither O'Brien nor his players could put a finger on the difference between the way the Nittany Lions start games -- they've out-scored foes 83-6 in the first quarter this season -- and they way they've started several second halves.
"We just need to do a little better job maintaining our focus on the third quarter," said right tackle Mike Farrell. "But by no means do I feel like we've come out flat after halftime."
"In the off‑season we're going to dive into this thing and scout ourselves and see if we can improve," O'Brien said, "but over the next two weeks we need to make sure we do a better job of coming out after halftime."
The halftime break, about 20 minutes, is longer than O'Brien was accustomed to having while with the New England Patriots for the past five years. He said Tuesday it "took him a while to get used to that" early in the season.
"We have a set procedure and we meet as a coaching staff first," he said. "We meet as an offensive staff, defensive staff, and then I travel in between there. I meet with the offensive coaches first, then I go with the defensive staff, then we meet with the players."
Under O'Brien, the Nittany Lions have been superbly prepared for what opponents are doing offensively and defensively at the start of games. Coming out of the locker room, the results have been mixed.
"At the end of the day sometimes those adjustments work and sometimes they don't," O'Brien said. "You know, it's a bunch of good kids and good coaches trying to do the right thing. I wouldn't make too much out of the second half thing. I know that's what maybe you guys are driving at, you know, but we just need to coach it and play it better."
Notes: O'Brien said Tuesday that tight end Kyle Carter, Penn State's second-leading receiver, is out for the remainder of the season with a right wrist injury. "He had an excellent season for us," O'Brien said. "Offensively it's the second hardest position to learn behind quarterback. …There are so many different things that you have to know, and I thought as a young player he came in here and did a really nice job." … O'Brien said that safety Malcolm Willis was able to do "some things" in Monday's practice but his availability for the Indiana game would be determined later in the week. … Penn State has faced several no-huddle, up-tempo teams this season and the Hoosiers qualify. O'Brien said Indiana plays at an "ultra-fast" tempo and will likely try to run between 90 and 100 plays Saturday.
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