Penn State has had its ups and downs this season, and even when things are going “well” it still seems like the team struggles.
I think this is perhaps best encapsulated by the second quarter of the game against Michigan State.
To start off the second quarter, Penn State had a 3-0 lead and the ball at its 23 yard line, facing a 3rd and 17. A quick incompletion, and the Lions had to punt the ball, a short punt that went out of bounds at the MSU 40.
3 plays and 59 seconds later, touchdown MSU to make it 7-3.
The Lions actually rallied on their next possession to make it 10-7! But then a 7-play, 70-yard drive for another TD for MSU put Sparty up 14-10.
On the ensuing kick, Robbie Dwyer returned for no gain to the Penn State 15. Over the next 3:00, the Lions managed to move the ball 30 yards. That’s one yard every 6 seconds of game play, for you mathematicians out there. Another punt, and the Lions seemingly had Michigan State pinned deep.
Nope. 7 plays, 87 yards, less than 2 minutes off the clock, and it’s 21-10. Another 3-and-out for the Lions, and MSU blessedly took a knee to end the half, rather than try for one last field goal.
In the second quarter, Michigan State went 10-for-10 passing, for 190 yards and three touchdowns. With time of possession slightly favoring the Lions, they managed just 85 total yards of offense, including just 34 passing yards on 10 attempts. Were it not for a 31-yard Sean Clifford TD run, the Lions would have had only 20 yards rushing on 8 attempts.
That’s... not great. For a quarter, the offense couldn’t move the ball, and the defense couldn’t stop it. It seemed like each and every drive the defensive failures put more pressure on the offense to perform, which it didn’t followed by more pressure on the defense to perform, which it didn’t.
Sprinkle in a few special teams gaffes, and Penn State played perhaps its worst quarter of football in 2020.
Then, mercifully, halftime hit. Penn State got a chance to reset, the coaches had a chance to iron out some wrinkles, and the team flipped a switch.
In the second half, the Lions put up 29 points, and held Michigan State to just 3. Five of MSU’s seven drives went for 5 plays or fewer. After completing all of his second quarter passes, Payton Thorne went just 6-for-17 before the final desperation drive that got MSU to the PSU 10. Even on that drive, he went 5-for-10, a far cry from the perfection he exhibited earlier in the game.
All of this to say, complementary football matters. The offense came out in the second half and cut the lead to just a field goal. The defense tightened up, the offense loosened up, and suddenly the team looked competent.
I don’t think there’s much doubt that the mentality of the team has been up and down - how could it not be? The worst start to a season in Penn State football, players opting out, players getting injured, the coach struggling with separation from his family, the pandemic itself. Yet I’ve seen them fight back on a lost - and ultimately meaningless - season, and are pushing their way closer and closer to respectability.
And that to me is not just complementary - it’s complimentary.