We all saw what Minnesota did to Penn State last season and figured, hey, this Kirk Ciarrocca guy looks like a really good offensive coordinator.
That got a lot of people’s hopes up when Ciarrocca was hired to replace Ricky Rahne, who’s now the head coach at Old Dominion.
But through six games, Penn State’s offense hasn’t come close to living up to expectations.
Not anyone’s expectations. Especially Ciarroccaa’s.
“I’m not happy with the results, OK, believe me,” Ciarrocca said Thursday morning.
“The offense, it’s not where I want it to be, the results have not been what I want them to be yet,” Ciarrocca added.
Thursday marked the first time during this season that the media has been able to speak with Ciarrocca. He fielded a bunch of questions about a bunch of topics, from the quarterback situation to playing a lot of young guys, to the offensive line.
And oh yes, those fade calls in the red zone, which simply have not worked.
“One of the reasons why I’ve been calling fades down there, it’s something that we did well in training camp and have done a really good job with in practice,” Ciarrocca said.
“We haven’t been able to execute it as well as we’d like in the games. From that standpoint, it’s been against man coverage.”
Ciarrocca said, from a technical standpoint, coordinators like to call fades “because it’s usually pretty safe to call, where your guy can make the play or nobody makes the play.
“But, again it’s something that I’m continually evaluating as I look at our players and what their strengths are and what their weaknesses are. We just haven’t done a great job of being able to convert them in the games for a number of different reasons, it’s not just one thing with it. So we’ve got to continue to diversify down there.”
Ciarrocca offered some candid analysis of starting quarterback Sean Clifford, who started poorly, lost the job to Will Levis, then moved back in the QB1 spot last week against Michigan.
Ciarrocca was asked if Clifford is trying to do too much, and he said there are “multiple things” that have been affecting him.
“I think one is definitely trying to be too perfect with things,” he said of Clifford. “I think that’s probably the biggest issue. I thought last week he really didn’t try to be perfect. He trusted what he saw. There’s probably contributes to it too, he’s learning a new offense a new way to think about things. That’s part of it.
“It’s not effort. I can tell you that it’s not work ethic, with him. We just got him to be a little bit, get them to be a little bit more comfortable and trust what he sees out there, and when not to force the ball in there. And again I thought he did a great job last week with his decision making and trusting what he saw. And when the play wasn’t there, threw the ball away and moved on. I love the kid. I love the way it works and his potential that he has at the position. It’s my job to get him to play better. And he has.”
Ciarrocca was asked an excellent question about how much of the offense is his, compared to how much has been integrated from previous PSU coordinators. He said couldn’t evaluate it like that because he has to own all of it and just do everything he can to give the team a chance to win.
At the end of his press conference, Ciarrocca was asked what he thought about being at Penn State and the pressures that come with that from a passionate fan base that can be heavily critical.
Ciarrocca gave a very lengthy answer, talking about how a coordinator can go from the penthouse to the outhouse in a short period of time at any job if things aren’t going well.
“I understand what comes with the position,” he said. “We’re going to be judged on those results each Saturday. I get that. I’ve been in the business a long time.
“One of the things I’ve learned throughout my time in this profession is that I don’t listen to the noise when it’s going bad, or when it’s going good. Either way, this job’s hard enough as it is. And you need to focus all your energy on doing your job, to the best of your capabilities. So, I don’t worry about it.”
Ultimately, Ciarrocca says he’s “very confident in my ability to build a successful, top-flight offense.” I’ve been able to do it at a number of places, and I certainly have the resources to be able to do that here and I’m very excited about it.”
He added that he loves the passion of the PSU fan base and alumni and said, “The fans care about this program, that’s one of the reasons why I’m here. I love that. And I love the program too, and very passionate about it, so I wouldn’t expect them to feel any other way.”
“Again,” he noted, “I say this one more time: Am I happy with the results? Absolutely not. OK. But I do trust the process, and I’ve been in a lot worse situations than this from a standpoint of a productivity standpoint, and we’ve always managed to come out the other side.”