By the Numbers: Second Verse, Same As the First
Halftime adjustments are a staple of college football and of football in general. You can't make it to 1:30 without hearing an announcer talk about what to expect when the teams come out for the second half, and networks love to tell their sideline reporters to ask stupid questions about adjustments so that we can hear which coaches are the best at saying "I'm not going to answer that." They're a real thing, and they're important. A lot of coaches are skilled at preparing for a team when they've got 6 (or 13 or 20) days to do so; give a coach 20(ish) minutes, and you can separate the good from the great. Even though you usually won't see dramatic second-half changes, the best coaches can make adjustments within their game plan that can be the difference between plunging into the sun and using its gravity well to escape the solar system, and even mediocre coaches can find ways to make seemingly insurmountable leads disappear. (Of course QBs have a role in this, even if only coincidentally: you may know Frank Reich more from an NFL playoff game than that 1984 Maryland win.)
Darrell Hazell, it seems, is not one of the best coaches.
8/31/2013 - Halftime score: Cincinnati 14, Purdue 7. Final score: Cincinnati 42, Purdue 14.
Hazell has been the head coach for 27 games at Purdue now. The Boilers have held the lead at halftime in 9 of those games. They're 5-4 in those games, 2-4 against I-A competition.
11/9/2013 - Halftime score: Iowa 14, Purdue 7. Final score: Iowa 38, Purdue 14.
Two games were tied at halftime: Purdue lost both of them. In the remaining sixteen games, Purdue trailed at halftime. In one of those games, Purdue outscored its opponent in the second half: the 2013 Bucket game, which Purdue lost by 20. In one, they kept the margin of defeat unchanged: 2014 Wisconsin. In the other fourteen, Purdue lost by more than the halftime deficit.
10/18/2014 - Halftime score: Purdue 31, Minnesota 20. Final score: Minnesota 39, Purdue 38.
It's even worse when we look strictly at the third quarter. Purdue has outscored their opponent twice: Illinois by 1 in 2014 and Wisconsin by 3 in 2014. The Good Guys scored more than 7 in the third just three times: those two games plus the Western Michigan game. They've allowed more than 7 points 13 times, nearly half of those games.
11/29/2014 - Halftime score: Purdue 6, Indiana 0. Final score: Indiana 23, Purdue 16.
The fourth quarter is nearly as bad, and would probably be worse if not for blowouts where the other team just stops caring. Only two games featured a fourth quarter in which Purdue scored more than 7 points: the 2013 Bucket, where Purdue scored 20 but still lost by 20, and 2014 Michigan State, where Purdue scored 14 but still lost by 14. They've allowed 10+ points in the fourth quarter in nine of their games under Hazell.
9/6/2015 - Halftime score: Purdue 21, Marshall 17. Final score: Marshall 41, Purdue 31.
Purdue has been outscored in the second half in 22 of 27 games, and in 10 of those 22 games, the second-half margin was 14 points or more. The five games where they held serve or actually outscored their opponents were Indiana, Illinois, Western Michigan and Wisconsin mentioned above, plus this year's Indiana State game.
9/19/2015 - Halftime score: Virginia Tech 24, Purdue 17. Final score: Virginia Tech 51, Purdue 24.
It isn't as though this is happening exclusively against top teams, either. The Boilers did have the toughest 2013 schedule in the Big Tenteen according to sports-reference, but 2014 was just middle-of-the-pack. The 2013 team was terrible and probably shouldn't have been able to come back in those games, but even Indiana State outscored the Boilers in the second half, and in 2014, the schedule was easier and the results were even harder to explain. The one Big 14 team the Good Guys managed to beat was the one with the worst coach in the conference: Beckman couldn't manage to figure out Hazell's game plan despite having two full shots at it.
It's not as though the conference is full of coaches who look at halftime as naptime, either.
- Kyle Flood saw Rutgers come back from 18 down to beat Maryland last year, 41-38.
- Obviously Kevin Wilson had a comeback win last year.
- Brady Hoke somehow managed to get Michigan past Penn State 18-13 after trailing 13-10.
- Pat Fitzgerald made Angry Redfaced Man even angrier with a 43-40 OT win after trailing 27-23 at the half.
- Even Tim Beckman "led" Illinois to a 42-34 win over Western Kentucky after being down 17-14, and that was with an Illini fumble-return TD at 0:41 in the second quarter.
And that's just the bottom part of the conference.
I went back to Hazell's days at Kent State, and I did find a second-half comeback. They beat Akron 35-24 in 2012 after trailing 24-14 ... but they also lost 9-3 to Miami (Ohio) in 2011 after a 3-0 halftime lead.
That's it. One comeback win in four-plus seasons. We could guess at which factors play more of a role in Hazell's struggles, but it seems likely that one thing will remain true under him: if the Good Guys are trailing at halftime, there won't be a second-half comeback.