In 2016, Penn State was the ultimate comeback team and produced a series of thrilling victories due to their second half performances. The Lions started notoriously slow, as they were outscored 224-129 in the first half, but outscored their opponents 332-133 after halftime. It was a formula that worked until the 4th quarter of the Rose Bowl; however, it's not a formula that generally leads to long term success.
In 2017, Penn State has avoided those first half deficits by scoring first in all five games. They've only trailed twice this season for a total of just under seven minutes, all against Iowa. The fast starts haven't happened just because the offense is lethal, but rather all three facets of the game have contributed to getting quick leads.
Penn State drove down the field in their first possession, but the drive ended with a Trace McSorley interception in the end zone. Six plays later, DeAndre Thompkins opened the 2017 scoring with his 63-yard punt return. Penn State scored a touchdown on their second drive and up 14-0, the rout was on.
On Pitt's fourth play of the game, Max Browne was intercepted by Grant Haley who returned the ball to the 8 yard line. The Lions cashed it in the very next play. The defense held Pitt to two punts, and Penn State took a 14-0 lead when McSorley found Mike Gesicki for the second time. Though the game was not the blowout some had hoped, Pitt never got closer than 14 points, and never threatened.
Like the prior two games, Penn State raced out to a 14-point first quarter lead on its way to a 56-0 blowout. The Lions tacked on 21 second quarter points. Meanwhile, the defense allowed just 153 first half yards, and forced five punts, two interceptions and a missed field goal.
Penn State moved the ball with success in the first half vs. Iowa (216 yards), but only had 5 points to show for it. The inability to finish drives almost proved costly. The first-half defense was stifling, scoring 2 points of their own, and holding Iowa to just 50 total yards and 7 points.
Saquon Barkley took the opening kickoff to the house, and after a Jason Cabinda fumble recovery, Penn State again went out in front 14-0. After another special teams touchdown, Penn State added a score to take a 28-0 first quarter lead. Though the second quarter was sloppy, Indiana never got within 14.
PSU's 28 first-quarter points vs. IU was the most since 2005. The Nittany Lions are currently tied for 3rd in FBS first-quarter scoring. pic.twitter.com/b0iLvj2nss— Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) October 2, 2017
This season, Penn State has outscored their opponents 117-24 in the first half, and has yet to allow a first quarter point, a welcome change from a season ago. In fact, the 2017 Lions already have more first quarter points than the 2016 team (73 vs. 68). The offense has had a couple red zone hiccups, but through five games we've seen great complementary football in the before halftime. Three special teams touchdowns and seven huge early turnovers in Penn State's favor have helped set the tone early in the season.