Monday, August 30, 2021

Mike Yurcich will bring Penn State football’s offense back to superstardom | Opinion


Seth Engle | The Daily Collegian

Aug 27, 2021

If you were to ask any diehard Penn State football fan who the program’s last great offensive coordinator was, the answer would likely be Joe Moorhead.

In just two seasons with the blue and white’s program, Moorhead was able to accomplish feats no other Penn State coordinator had come close to in recent memory, leading the Nittany Lions to a Big Ten Championship win, two New Year's Six bowl games and two top-10 finishes.

After such high accomplishments, Moorhead’s time as a coordinator was short-lived, and he became the head coach of Mississippi State in 2018.

Penn State’s offense hasn’t been the same since.

After two seasons under Ricky Rahne, the Nittany Lions decided to bring in former Minnesota offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca to lead the offense in 2020.

With Ciarrocca pulling the strings, the Golden Gophers lit up Penn State’s defense in 2019 in their 31-26 defeat over the undefeated Nittany Lions.

Many expected Ciarrocca would do to opponents what he did to the blue and white in 2019. However, that wasn’t the case.

Penn State went 4-5 in 2020, suffering its first losing season in nearly two decades.

In January, Ciarrocca was fired, and the Nittany Lions brought in their third offensive coordinator in three years in Mike Yurcich.

A “football guy” in nature, Yurcich has bounced around the country in different coaching roles for the past 22 years — 15 of which have been spent as an offensive coordinator.

Yurcich began to make headlines as the offensive coordinator of Oklahoma State. The Cowboy offense ranked fifth nationally in passing yards per game, seventh in total offense and sixth in scoring in his six years with the program.

Following his stint in Stillwater, Oklahoma, Yurcich made his way to Ohio State to serve as the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach — developing a quarterback named Justin Fields.

In his lone season with the Buckeyes, Yurcich led them to a 13-1 record and a spot in the College Football Playoff, while Fields finished as a Heisman finalist.

However, Yurcich’s gig in Columbus was eventful but brief.

Yurcich moved on once again to become the offensive coordinator at Texas — where he led the Longhorns to a No. 8 rank in scoring offense (42.7 ppg) in 2020, good for second-best in program history.

The following January, Yurcich found his next destination: Happy Valley.

When looking at stats alone, there’s plenty to be excited about for Yurcich’s start with Penn State.

Since 2013, Yurcich ranks first among Power Five offensive coordinators with 6.49 yards per play and 14.03 yards per completion.

In the same timeframe, Yurich’s teams have scored 40 or more points in 50% of the games he’s led as offensive coordinator.

Stats don’t lie, and that’s something James Franklin has made clear over the years.

When looking at Penn State’s offensive statistics from last season, a few things stand out.

The Nittany Lions maintained a higher average yards and passing yards per game in 2020 than in 2019.

However, points per game dropped by a full touchdown, from 35.8 in 2019 to 29.8 in 2020. The yardage may have been higher, but the blue and white played from behind in many games and racked up garbage-time stats.

In 2021, the scoring will rise.

Despite a disappointing season from Sean Clifford, Penn State still managed to finish second in passing yards per game, displaying that there’s talent in the passing game entering the 2021 season.

If Yurcich has done anything in his 22-year career, it’s score — and that’s what Penn State needs most.

Clifford may have regressed this past season, but if there’s one man to get him back to his 2019 ways — when the Cincinnati native led Penn State to an 11-2 record — it’s Yurcich.

In Yurcich’s offense, Clifford will be more likely to throw the ball rather than settle for a quarterback sneak up the middle, as Penn State did constantly under Ciarrocca.

Yurcich’s faster-paced style of play will bring excitement to Nittany Lion fans, as his quick snaps will be used to fool defenses in order to create more explosive plays.

With a receiving core led by two-headed monster Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington, along with a running back room backed by five guys who are good enough to start on FBS rosters, Clifford holds the keys to Penn State getting back to stardom next season.

In 2016, Moorhead unveiled a playbook more creative than any Penn State fans had seen in years. Expect the same to unfold with Yurcich in 2021, as he leads the Nittany Lions to one of their best offensive seasons in recent memory.


Mekhi Sargent should be key piece of Titans RB committee


by Geoffrey Knox


Here’s as bold a statement as can be made. Normally, you won’t hear this about an undrafted rookie that entered Tennessee Titans training camp as the last man on the depth chart at his position, but if Mekhi Sargent doesn’t make Tennessee’s 53-man roster, there needs to be some sort of formal investigation.

Though it seems ridiculous to make any statement that suggests the Titans should give Derrick Henry the ball less often, the NFL’s best running back has carried the ball 782 times over the past two NFL seasons if you include what he’s done in the playoffs.

Memories of Eddie George and Chris Johnson always force a smile across one’s face, but their careers can also serve as cautionary tales. The running back position is the NFL’s most punishing, and if there’s any way to capitalize on Derrick Henry’s brilliance and keep him around longer, those options must be explored.

Tennessee’s got a franchise under their noses in the form of Mekhi Sargent. All they need do is take a whiff.

Mekhi Sargent can be the lightning to Derrick Henry’s thunder.

If three preseason games of Titans football didn’t teach us anything else, it should have been this. Finding help for Derrick Henry has been a topic of conversation around Nashville for a while, and we may now have an answer to the questions that have been asked.

You have to love what Jeremy McNichols did in the wake of injuries during the 2020 season. Darrynton Evans is talented, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Brian Hill, once seen as a favorite to earn a roster spot, hasn’t been able to gain any consistent traction.

Mekhi Sargent has been one of the nice surprises of this Titans training camp. He rarely goes down on first contact. He functions well as a receiver. It’s Sargent, not Evans, who looks like the best option to be the backup and complementary piece to Henry, and how great of an addition would that be?

Can you imagine how dominant the Titans would be if they had a well-rested and totally healthy version of Henry in January? Adding Mekhi Sargent to a potential committee of Titans running backs that includes Henry, Evans, and Khari Blasingame could be exactly what the doctor ordered. Again, if the Titans leave the undrafted rookie off of the 53-man roster, serious questions need to be asked about what this team is doing.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Peter King FMIA 8-23-21: Tweets of the Week


By Peter King

August 23, 2021

Mike Vrabel is the head coach of the Titans. This is a post-practice picture from Wednesday, after a Bucs-Titans practice.


Interview: Catching up with ‘The Big Kat’ Andy Katzenmoyer


One of OSU’s greatest players looks back on his career — and forward to the 2021 season

By David M Wheeler  Aug 21, 2021, 4:31pm EDT

Andy Katzenmoyer lines up against Missouri, Sept. 27, 1997.

They called him “The Big Kat” – and for good reason. As college linebackers go, Katzenmoyer was huge. His NFL Combine stats list him as 6-3, 258 lbs., the weight ranking him in the 98th percentile at his position. And he was quick, like a cat. His 4.48 seconds in the 40-yard dash put him in the 82nd percentile at his position.

Andy’s 39” vertical jump and his 4.1 pro agility rating indicated his agility and athleticism. This combination of size, speed, and agility made Andy elite. The intensity he joined with his natural talents made him one of a kind, totally unique.

Katzenmoyer was a prize recruit for the Buckeyes when he came out of Westerville South (Ohio) High School in 1996. And his impact on the team was immediate. Andy was named Big Ten Freshman of the year for the 1996 season and was the first Ohio State linebacker to start the first game of his freshman season.

An All American both his sophomore and junior years, Katzenmoyer became the Buckeyes’ first Butkus Award winner in 1997 and was All Big Ten each of the three years that he played. His accumulated stats are impressive, indeed: 256 total tackles, 197 solo tackles, 50 tackles for loss, 18 sacks, 6 interceptions. But the numbers tell only a partial story. The Big Kat owned any football field he played on. He was all over the field. Always on the ball. Hitting ferociously hard. Terrifying the opponent. He was something.

Katzenmoyer played on great John Cooper-coached Ohio State teams, which went a combined 32-5 during his three years as a player. 1998, his final season as a Buckeye, started off with a loud bang, as Andy graced the cover of the August 31, College Football Preview issue of Sports Illustrated. Both the linebacker and the team were flying high. The caption next to Katzenmoyer’s photo read: “Ohio State is #1, if Andy Katzenmoyer Makes the Grade.” Well, he earned an A+ for the season, and the SI prediction was nearly on the mark. The Bucks were ranked #1 all season until a four-point, November loss to Michigan State likely cost them the national championship, as they recovered from that defeat to beat Michigan and then Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl.

Drafted in the first round (28th overall pick) by the New England Patriots, Katzenmoyer put up big numbers again, albeit in a pro career cut sadly short by injury. Andy played in 24 NFL games, starting 14 of them. He collected 101 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and a Super Bowl Championship ring for the Pats’ win over the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVII.

Everyone who follows college football – certainly not just Buckeye fans – remembers Andy Katzenmoyer. LGHL caught up with Andy, now 43, and got his take on a number of topics.

On the sidelines, 1997.

LGHL: Coming out of Westerville South High School in 1996, you were regarded as one of the top defensive players (at any position) in the country. You must have been recruited by everybody, but, as essentially a Columbus native, did you consider committing to any school other than Ohio State?

Katzenmoyer: Yes. Despite being recruited by most schools across the country, it really came down to 3 schools that I was interested in attending. Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State. All three schools have had an excellent football tradition, especially at the linebacker position and all three ran the same defensive scheme but I chose OSU because I felt that I had the greatest opportunity for success. Plus, growing up in Central Ohio, I grew up a huge fan of the Buckeyes.

LGHL: Apparently, you wore #45 in high school. At OSU, that number was worn by two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin and had been retired. There’s a story that Archie went to your home and personally offered you #45 if you’d become a Buckeye. True?

Katzenmoyer: I asked to wear 45 after I had signed my letter of intent. Coach Cooper called me a week later and told me that Archie said he was fine with me wearing 45. I would have understood if Archie would have said no, but knowing Archie, that isn’t the kind of man he is.

LGHL: What was it like playing for your hometown team, always in front of family and friends?

Katzenmoyer: It was awesome! My family was able to attend all my games both home and away. I was also able to stay close to many of my high school friends that attended OSU.

LGHL: At Ohio State, you played on three great teams; two of them, in fact, 1996 and 1998, ranked #2 in the final AP polls, both going 11-1 for the season. What are some of your best – and worst — memories about those teams? Do any games particularly stand out?

Katzenmoyer: I played on 3 great teams. Only losing 5 games in 3 years in that era of Big 10 football is something to be proud of. Each and every week, we faced some of the best football players in the country. There are too many great memories to list! There is only one play that I wish I could redo. It was during the 1997 Michigan game. Late in the 4th quarter, we were down. It was 3rd and long and we knew that Michigan liked to run a screen pass to their tailback. The defensive call had me covering the TB in man to man. I read the play, slipped the blocker that Michigan had for me, saw the ball being thrown and thought I could pick the ball off. The ball floated more than I expected and I was only able to get a fingertip on the ball. Tipping the ball away but that close to a pick 6!

LGHL: On those Ohio State teams, many of your teammates, in addition to you, became Buckeye legends. Guys like David Boston, Joe Germaine, Luke Fickell, Antoine Winfield, Mike Vrabel. What do you remember about playing alongside them?

Katzenmoyer: I did have some amazing teammates. I was able to learn something from everyone that I played with. Whether it was something like in season prep, out of season prep, how to practice, how to play a game, and most importantly, how to compete every day.

LGHL: Personally at OSU, you accomplished about everything that a linebacker could: you started every game (even as a freshman), you were all Big-Ten all three years that you played, you were twice All-American, you won the Butkus Award for outstanding linebacker – the first Ohio State player to do so. Your stats for tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, interceptions are all jaw-dropping. Of all of these feats, what are you proudest of?

Katzenmoyer: I am most proud of beating Michigan in my last game in the shoe along with winning the Rose Bowl my freshman year and the Sugar Bowl my Junior year.

LGHL: You were selected in the first round (28th overall) of the 1999 NFL draft by the New England Patriots. We all know that, after a great couple of years, including a Super Bowl victory in 2002, an injury cut short your pro career. But I’m sure that you had a good sense of what pro football was all about. In what ways does it differ from the college game?

Katzenmoyer: For me, the speed and ability of the players I played against didn’t surprise me as the Big Ten had some amazing talent. The biggest adjustment was the pre snap process and communication while also trying to learn the new terminology.

LGHL: What are you up to these days?

Katzenmoyer: I am happily married to my wife Tricia and we have 3 children, Griffin, Avery and Ava and I sell insurance for Hosket Ulen Insurance Solutions.

LGHL: What’s your prediction for the 2021 version of the Buckeyes as they approach the beginning of the season? Are they going to be hurting at linebacker?

Katzenmoyer: I think OSU will have a great season. Like most years, they lose some great players and they have to reload. I expect them to be playing in the Big Ten Championship and make the playoffs.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Tennessee Titans’ Preseason Week 2 player of the game: RB Mekhi Sargent


Shaun Calderon 



Player of the game: RB Mekhi Sargent

There were a lot of ways I could have gone with this one. Sam Ficken continues to look like the Titans’ kicker of the present and future. Matt Barkley took a giant step towards becoming a realistic QB2 option. And the Titans’ defense, in general, continues to pummel their opponents.

However, I’m going with someone who may not have been seriously considered for a roster spot at the start of camp but is now someone who no longer can be ignored.

For the second straight week, running back Mekhi Sargent led the team in rushing yards and seemed to be the only running back who could make up for the offensive line incompetence.

His ability to make plays despite his lackluster run blocking was evident throughout the game. Sargent led the way with 4.9 yards per run, for comparison, Jeremy McNichols averaged -1.8 yards per carry on the night.

Sargent has given himself a legitimate chance of playing himself into a roster spot.

These next two weeks will be crucial for him but if he continues to play like he did tonight, he undoubtedly will be pushing Darrynton Evans for that coveted RB2 spot.

Sargent finished the game with 16 carries for 78 yards and he also added one five-yard catch for a touchdown.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Sean Clifford 'Feels Like a New Player' Under Mike Yurcich


Penn State's offensive coordinator has reshaped Clifford in his short time with the Nittany Lions.



AUG 11, 2021


At 23, Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford is a team elder, a status he absorbs in many ways.

As a fifth-year senior, Clifford is playing in his fourth offense for his fourth coordinator. Like most elders, Clifford says he doesn't understand TikTok. And like any good veteran quarterback, Clifford made finding a sponsor for his weekly dinner with the offensive line among his first missions regarding name, image and likeness opportunities.

(Clifford recently struck a deal with The Field, a popular State College restaurant that named a sandwich after Penn State coach James Franklin.)

"If I wanted to take my offensive line out last year, I would have had to buy them food out of my stipend money," Clifford said. "Which, to be honest with you, hurt. A lot."

But even with all that accumulated wisdom and experience, Clifford simultaneously is feeling invigorated. He has channeled something new in his short time with offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, something that has him encouraged about the 2021 season.

At 23, in year five of college, Clifford said he might even feel reborn.

"I definitely feel like I’m playing at a pretty high level, and [Yurcich] has brought a lot of good out of me, things that I never thought I could do," Clifford said. "... This is just the beginning. I'm trying to break my ceiling and go even higher each and every day."

Clifford has laid to rest his uneven 2020 season, one in which he regressed under a stressed offensive installation, a losing streak and a tendency to freight all of it entirely on his shoulders.

Still, that season trails him. Pro Football Focus placed Clifford at No. 88 in its college quarterback rankings, squarely in the "needs improvement" category. Asked this week to describe what he learned from 2020, Clifford said, "I will not be talking about last season anymore."

"Obviously, as an entire organization, we had some challenges last year," Franklin said. "That was an opportunity for all of us to grow and evolve. And I know Sean has as well, and I'm looking forward to watching him play this year."

Clifford spent this offseason studying Yurcich's offenses at Oklahoma State, Ohio State and Texas. He made calls to fellow quarterbacks, including the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mason Rudolph, who threw for 13,618 yards and 92 touchdowns in four seasons under Yurcich at Oklahome State. Clifford also caught some time with several Mannings at the Manning Passing Academy.

Clifford views all that as prelude and prep to a breakthrough season. And Yurcich has plenty to do with that.

"I’ve learned from four coaches how to play football in different ways," Clifford said. "I appreciate all the coaches who have come through Penn State. I've learned a lot from them. I've taken the good and the bad and learned from it.

"And I feel like coach Yurcich is definitely bringing out a new player. He's definitely pushing me to a new level and he's making me a better version of Sean Clifford, who I feel the team's happy to see, and I'm happy to see myself."

In Clifford, Yurcich sees a fresh piece of clay to remold into a successful Big Ten quarterback. Yurcich's most significant criticism of his quarterbacks centers on consistency, meaning he's not seeing it.

Clifford has the intangible qualities — experience, study habits, leadership — and now has to rebuild the technical skills around them. And he has to do that consistently.

"I think he can get a lot better," Yurcich said. "So that’s my job: to help him along, to guide him and to give him the information that he needs and to continue to press upon the things that he has to improve upon and apply pressure where it needs to be in practice. Give him difficult looks, allow him to fail and figure it out, and then continue to build his confidence up. I think that’s the process of learning."

A supremely confident quarterback, Clifford breaks down his assets like this: "I have a lot of wisdom. I've played a lot of snaps here, so I've seen a lot of looks. And I've just played a lot of football, seen a lot of tape, and done a lot of research. So I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of everything."

Yurcich is tasked with piecing all those elements together to assemble a successful Big Ten quarterback.

"Sean’s all about helping this team win," Yurcich said. "He’s willing to do whatever it takes, so therefore, you've just got to try to help him. You have to guide him and help him get where he wants to be. And he wants to be great, so whatever that takes."

4 takeaways from Day 13 of Chiefs training camp


Charles Goldman 

The Kansas City Chiefs were back in pads for their final training camp practice ahead of the start of the preseason on Saturday.

The offense was executing a lot better on Thursday after having a down practice on Tuesday, which is exactly what you want to see if you’re the coaching staff. There are still some things the team will have to work through during the remainder of training camp and the preseason, but they have themselves positioned to get off to a hot start.

Here are four things that we’re taking away from the thirteenth day of Chiefs’ training camp:

Running backs need more work on pass protection

The team got the day started with individual drills and 1-on-1’s per usual. The pass-blocking drills didn’t go in favor of the running backs on Thursday, with the linebackers taking home plenty of would-be sacks on the quarterback. Standing out on the defensive side were LBs Ben Niemann and Darius Harris, who dominated their competition. Falling flat for Kansas City were RBs Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Derrick Gore, who need some work there.

Edwards-Helaire wanted to improve in the passing game this offseason — that includes working on pass protection. Getting dusted by Niemann only to get yelled at by Eric Bieniemy is probably not what he had in mind. Hopefully, this will be a bit of a wake-up call for the second-year running back ahead of Saturday’s preseason debut. It’s worth noting he’s had better 1-on-1 pass protection drills during the course of training camp.

Some good moments on offense


There were a number of standout plays on offense at practice on Thursday. Here are just a few that were captured and shared on social media:

  • Jerick McKinnon had a slick cutback run that would have gone for a touchdown during team periods.
  • Patrick Mahomes hit Tyreek Hill in the back corner of the endzone during redzone drills. The pass protection was a sight to behold on the play.
  • Demarcus Robinson made a physical contested catch over Chris Lammons during 1-on-1 drills.


Jody Fortson continues his training camp stardom


Jody Fortson continues to make an impression at Chiefs training camp. The third-year WR-TE convert added 20 pounds of muscle this offseason and really has begun to look the part. His latest claim to fame comes on a broken play across the middle of the field.

Chad Henne was looking for Maurice Ffrench, who was wide open on a crosser heading in the opposite direction. Fortson and Ffrench end up in the same area of the field for some reason (hence the broken play). The ball is thrown behind Fortson because it was intended for Ffrench. Instead of potentially letting a turnover happen, Fortson makes an acrobatic adjustment to pop the ball up and haul it back in. Assuming this wasn’t a wrong wrote by Fortson, it was a heads-up move to ensure the team made positive gains on the play.

One-handed catches a theme at practice


There were a number of great one-handed catches during 1-on-1 drills at practice today. Fifth-year veteran wideout Marcus Kemp and newcomer Daurice Fountain both came down with one-handed grabs. But the top snag seemed to come from Tyreek Hill, who beat L’Jarius Sneed, hauling in the pass with one hand while falling to the ground.

I’m not sure if these were intended to be one-handed catches, but it’s always good to know that your players can come down with the ball by any means necessary.

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