You know how you’ve watched Big 12 football at times over the years and thought to yourself, “Don’t they play any defense in that league?” If you love offense, as I do, the high-scoring, pinball game type of attacks in the Big 12 have always been fun to watch, even if the defenses did leave you scratching your head.
Well, now Penn State has one of those guys who used to run an explosive Big 12 offense.
Mike Yurcich is the Nittany Lions’ new offensive coordinator, and he brings a wealth of experience to the job. He also brings a mindset that offenses need to score a hell of a lot of points, which is what he learned as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State for six seasons from 2013-18.
This looks like a fantastic hire by James Franklin.
Only time will tell, of course, but Penn State has never — and I repeat never — brought in a new offensive coordinator who has had the kind of success before arriving that Yurcich has had.
Sure, Joe Moorhead was outstanding at Penn State, a game changer who brought a modern offense to the Lions that helped win the 2016 Big Ten title. But Moorhead came from Fordham and had not enjoyed the kind of success at a high-profile school that Yurcich has.
Kirk Ciarrocca looked like a really good hire last year. He had a lot of experience as a coordinator and was good at Minnesota, but what Yurcich has accomplished is on a different level.
Let’s talk about Ciarrocca for a minute. I will not pile on the guy, as some fans may do after Penn State’s disappointing 4-5 season.
Yes, Ciarrocca called way too many fades in the red zone. It was ridiculous. It pretty much never worked, and it made him look bad.
But Ciarrocca expected to have Journey Brown, Noah Cain and Devyn Ford as his tailbacks. If all three had been with the team and healthy, I can guarantee you the Lions would have been much better on offense.
But Brown had to retire for medical reasons. Cain got hurt on the first series of the season. And Ford had to miss time, as well. That left true freshmen Keyvone Lee and Caziah Holmes to carry the load, and they did a very nice job, all things considered.
I also won’t blame Ciarrocca for Sean Clifford’s very poor start to the season. Clifford threw some absolutely terrible passes and committed very costly turnovers that helped lead to the 0-5 start. He got benched, learned his lesson and played better later in the season.
Tight end Pat Freiermuth also had to miss the final five games with a shoulder injury, taking an All-American away from Ciarrocca.
We will never truly know how good Ciarrocca could have been with more time and all of the weapons at his disposal at Penn State.
Franklin decided to make the change now, though, because in Yurcich, he surely believes he’s found a coordinator who can do what Moorhead did in 2016 — oversee an offense that can score at will and from anywhere on the field.
Ciarrocca seemed unwilling or uninterested in taking a lot of deep shots down the field. We may not truly know his reasoning — maybe he just didn’t have faith in Clifford after the QB’s bad start — but whatever the case, that needed to happen.
Yurcich undoubtedly will let his quarterback take shots down the field. They have always done that at Oklahoma State, where Yurcich worked for Mike Gundy, and he spent the past two seasons with prolific offenses at Ohio State and Texas.
There is every reason to believe that Yurcich will come in and have great success at Penn State. He has worked with the likes of Mason Rudolph, Justin Fields and Sam Ehlinger, and he should be able to get the most out of a senior quarterback in Clifford next season.
Give him time to bring in and develop his own quarterbacks, and the sky very well could be the limit for Yurcich.
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