The Importance of The Middle Eight for Penn State
The “middle eight” is a term used to describe the last four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half.
It’s used often amongst coaches and players more than in the media, but we heard a lot about it from Penn State’s head coach James Franklin this past Saturday. Franklin placed a lot of emphasis on the middle eight and the importance of winning it.
James Franklin-led teams are 14-2 in the last three years when they win the middle eight, so he clearly knows a thing or two.
“We talk about the importance of the middle eight… That statistic is probably fairly consistent across the country,” Franklin said. “It’s a stat that we’re aware of and we try to make sure the guys understand the significance and importance of it.”
The Nittany Lions have been wildly successful in the middle eight so far this season, racking up a total of 21 points in two games. And if the “middle nine” were a thing, that number is bumped up to 31.
In the season opener against Purdue, Penn State ignited its success when Sean Clifford punched in a two-yard touchdown with 1:44 left in the first half. Moments later, Clifford rolled out and connected with Brenton Strange who broke a pair of tackles and sprinted 67 yards to the end zone right before the halftime buzzer to put Penn State up two possessions.
This past Saturday versus Ohio, Penn State extended its lead to 19 on a Mitchell Tinsley seven-yard touchdown reception with 15 seconds left in the first half.
The Nittany Lions also kicked a field goal with 5:14 left in the first half, and Drew Allar tossed his first-career touchdown to Omari Evans at the 9:25 mark in the third quarter. Both are just barley outside of the “middle eight” by definition, but close enough to warrant mentioning.
“We talk about it a lot and winning that really does relate to winning the game in many ways,” Clifford said. “It's the only time that you get back to back possessions sometimes, especially like today we got the ball at halftime… So being able to score there gives you so much momentum going into the half. And it really is a psychological thing in my mind as well.”
The idea is if you can manage a drive at the end of the second quarter and even better, put up points, it keeps the opposition’s offense off the field long enough to break rhythm. It keeps the defense on the field for an extended period too, and if you can score, it can be a severe detriment to their momentum. Overall, maximizing the middle eight helps you gain a huge edge in the grand scheme of the game.
It takes an experienced and skilled quarterback to execute a “middle eight offense,” and Clifford checks both of those boxes. He’s been nothing but cool, calm and collected in the pocket this season and his six years of experience has shined.
“I'm impressed with how we are in two minutes, to be honest,” Clifford said. “I think that we do a really good job. I think that we're smart, I think we make a lot of plays and it's cool to watch a lot of the playmakers just going out there and doing what they do.”
Obviously, you need to have a lot of coin toss luck to be able to even execute in the middle eight. But either way Franklin has said that his coin toss philosophy is dictated a lot by it.
“It helps if you defer, and [depending on] the way the game plays out, you have the ball at the end of the first half and have a chance,” Franklin said. “But sometimes it’s not going to work out that way… We’ve been fortunate.”
Penn State’s success in the middle eight has correlated to a couple strong victories so far this season and a spot in the AP Top 25, as the Nittany Lions were elevated to No. 22 this past weekend.
It'll be an important phase of the game once again this upcoming Saturday, as the team travels to Auburn for a date with the Tigers and their biggest test of the season thus far.
Zach Donaldson is a fifth-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
About the Contributors
Senior / Broadcast Journalism