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Giger Counters: PSU’s refusal to use tempo in recent years limited offense, and that should be changing

Photo by Penn State Athletics: New offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca

Did you see what Ole Miss did to Alabama on Saturday night?

No, not defensively. The defenses were a complete joke in that 63-48 game.

But offensively, Ole Miss ran a fast tempo on offense the entire night and kept Bama’s defenders off guard. It was a thing of beauty, really, and Ole Miss at least gave itself a chance to win with that style of play.

Let’s contrast that with what we’ve seen from Penn State in recent years.

Joe Moorhead brought some revolutionary changes to PSU’s offense in 2016, and there’s no doubt, it was a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

Amazing what having Saquon Barkley, Chris Godwin and Trace McSorley can do when you have a terrific offensive mind running the show.

But when we first heard that Moorhead was bringing a no-huddle attack to Happy Valley, the immediate assumption was that PSU would be running a fast-paced, tempo offense.

That assumption was dead wrong.

What we wound up seeing, on pretty much every single play for the past four years under Moorhead and successor Ricky Rahne, was this: A whole bunch of standing around and waiting.

No, there wasn’t a huddle. But there also was no tempo. No catching the defense off guard with quick snaps — like most all other football teams in college and the pros will do frequently, especially after a first down or two to start a drive.

Nothing at all like that.

What we’ve seen is the quarterback standing around. Everyone else on offense standing around. The defenders standing around. All while Moorhead or Rahne looked things over and decided which play to call, a process that often took the play clock down to 10 seconds or less.

Moorhead considered the word “huddle” to be a bad word. But let’s not kid ourselves here. It’s one thing to go no huddle, and something very, very different to go no huddle with the threat of running quick plays at a fast pace.

Penn State never gave opponents that threat, and the feeling here is that limited the offense at least to some degree.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m hesitant to sound too critical of Moorhead because, in my opinion, what he brought to the table offensively is a major, major reason PSU returned to national prominence in 2016.

Still, why was there hardly ever any tempo? Why is it that Moorhead and then Rahne felt that the only way to call plays — pretty much at all times — was in that hurry up and wait type of system?

I’m not saying the Lions need to do what Ole Miss did, or other lightning-fast offenses around the country.

What I’m saying is, why take that possibility out of the playbook?

A fast tempo can serve a very valuable purpose when utilized frequently and efficiently. That’s obvious if you watch college football all around the country.

One thing I’m definitely looking forward to with Kirk Ciarrocca taking over as offensive coordinator is the return of a tempo offense at times. Ciarrocca isn’t gonna go nuts with it, but he is expected to utilize it as part of his detail-oriented, efficient offensive philosophy.

My long-running joke is that I love offense. If you see me write that in a story or on Twitter occasionally, it’s really kind of an inside joke I have with those who know me well and understand what kinds of things I like to watch — in all sports.

There are a lot of different ways to run an offense. To me, the best kind of coach is one who NEVER rules out anything.

It always bothered me that Moorhead and Rahne would never, ever, ever go under center.

And oh yeah, the whole fullback deal. But I hate to even bring that up, because people get dismissive and laugh, like you’re some old fogey who wants to return to the 1980s.

Point is, if the other team knows you’re never going to go under center or use a fullback, then you’ve taken two possible ways of hurting that team completely off the table so that they really don’t even have to prepare for it.

Why, I have long asked, does anyone think it’s a smart idea to limit yourself in any way at all by flat out refusing to ever try certain things?

Virtually never going with fast tempo fell into that category with PSU in recent years.

It will be good to see that change — we can assume anyway — this year.

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career.

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