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.


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