Penn State has been in a state of chaos at the beginning of its practices this week.
No, the 3-2 Nittany Lions are not panicking as they prepare to play host to unbeaten Maryland at Beaver Stadium for homecoming Saturday. Rather, it is that PSU coach James Franklin has instituted a little practice trick to help the Lions combat the slow starts that have plagued them all season.
“We have to start faster,” Franklin said Tuesday. “… I've done in the past a thing that is called a 'chaos period.' … We go out on the field, and there is a block of time for it, but none of the coaches know what it is. So I have it scheduled ahead of time, whatever it may be. Whether it's third down, ones vs. ones. Whether it's the opening drive of the game. Whether it's red zone. Whatever it may be.”
Penn State has been outscored 92-54 in the first halves of games this season, but holds an 85-62 edge on its opponents in the second half. The Lions have faced first-half deficits of 21 points (in a loss at Pitt), 28 points (in a loss at Michigan) and 10 points (in last weekend's overtime win against Minnesota).
After Wednesday's practice, Franklin said the team has had mixed early results with the chaos period. Some tweaking will be needed, he said, but having the first-team offense go against the first-team defense at full speed (but with thud tackling) in unexpected scenarios is an eye-opener.
“I thought (Tuesday) was good,” he explained. “We did an opening-drive period. We had a couple penalties, but overall I thought it was good. The penalties were on the defensive side of the ball.
“Today we did a third-down period, which is a little difficult because the offense is running plays that are designed to go against Maryland, and our defense is obviously running different things,” he added. “So that wasn't as clean as I'd like it to be and I think there are some things we can do, and not run game-specific plays and kind of run all-purpose plays.”
From Franklin's perspective, the chaos period is less about his players getting ready to go quickly — “it's not like they know what plays are being run in practice, anyway” — but rather the coaching staff adjusting on the fly. Along those lines, he is encouraging offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and defensive coordinator Brent Pry to communicate about how both sides can improve.
The chaos periods may not be directed at the players. But cornerback John Reid is enjoying them, just the same.
“It's like, as soon as you're done stretching, boom, we're right into it,” Reid said. “It's simulating coming out for that first quarter. You're getting out of warm-ups. … It's boom — fast paced. You know our offense is fresh … they're running tempo, so they're gonna be quick, they're gonna be fast.
“So it speeds your processing up,” he added. “You've got to get warmed up fast. I think it's been a good thing for us.”