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Giger: Yurcich should run his system, not a ‘blend’

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Mike Yurcich

Diehard Penn State fans all know the deal with the fullback stuff. It’s become a running joke in recent years, a punchline that some of us in the media like to bring up from time to time — that the Nittany Lions NEVER, EVER, under ANY circumstances would use a fullback.

One of the best writers on the PSU beat is Greg Pickel from PennLive. Greg’s a good dude, and this pinned tweet on his Twitter account is awesome:

Penn State’s fullback issue goes far beyond just the silliness in the way many of us — fans and media alike — beat one somewhat random topic like a dead horse.

For me, the fullback issue — along with NEVER going under center — has always been about one thing: Stubbornness.

I’ve written this many, many times: If Penn State’s past three offensive coordinators — Joe Moorhead, Ricky Rahne and Kirk Ciarrocca — were so completely unwilling to ever try using a fullback or going under center even ONCE, then you really have to wonder what else they were completely closed-minded about when it came to things that, you know, actually could have worked.

I despise that kind of stubborn thinking. In sports. In life. In everything.

If you’re so damn arrogant that you’ve decided you will never even try something that might work, then you have a big problem.

LISTEN: Cory Giger and Donnie Collins discuss Yurcich hire and what to expect in this podcast

OK, after all that, I need to tell you something pretty important: New offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich has actually used a fullback in the past. Well, to be clear, it wasn’t called a fullback.

While at Oklahoma State, that highly successful offense came up with something called a Cowboy Back. The brainchild of coach Mike Gundy, the position is considered a hybrid tight end, blocker and … wait for it … fullback.

If Yurcich does indeed like what the Cowboy Back brings to the table, well oh well, we actually could see someone line up in the backfield as a fullback at Penn State.

Now that we’ve gotten the earth-shattering fullback stuff out of the way, here’s the point I truly want to make: Whatever the heck Mike Yurcich wants to do with Penn State’s offense — be it fullback, going under center, throwing deep 10 times a game, whatever — he needs to be allowed to do it.

James Franklin brought this guy here for a reason. He apparently has a brilliant offensive mind and knows how to call plays for a potent offense.

Yurcich should be allowed to install HIS system.

Not to run some “blend” of the Joe Moorhead system that Penn State has been running the past five years.

When Franklin hired Ciarrocca last year, the coach talked about how the offensive coordinator would combine the offense he ran at Minnesota with what Penn State was already doing. They would “blend” everything together, was how Franklin put it.

Looking back on it, I think this actually turned out to be a cautionary tale type of foreshadowing statement. It’s what Ciarrocca said in April.

“It’s definitely not my system, it’s our system now. It’s Penn State’s players. It’s the coaching staff. We’ve all contributed to this thing.”

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Now, when asked at the end of the season about how much of the offense was actually his, Ciarrocca gave a very interesting and telling answer.

This is an excellent tweet from veteran PSU beat writer Mike Poorman from StateCollege.com. Read carefully what Ciarrocca says, and how unsure he seems in even how to answer what seems to be a relatively simple question.

When we get to the end of the 2021 season, I hope Poorman asks the exact same question of Mike Yurcich. And at that point, I would hope Yurcich would be able to say something like this:

“This is my offensive system. I took what they were already doing and added some of those things to my system to make it even better.”

See how that’s different from what Ciarrocca said? You sort of get the feeling that his hands were tied in his first season, and as a new assistant coach on the staff who had never really had enormous national success on offense, he may have felt constrained a bit about fully implementing his system and sticking with it at all times.

Obviously having no spring ball or summer workouts hurt with Ciarrocca’s installation plans. Sure, he could teach a lot of it on Zoom, but c’mon, trying to install a new offense entirely that way might be close to impossible.

So, Ciarrocca did the best he could in 2020, figuring he’d have time over the next year or two to tweak things and make them better.

Only, he didn’t get another year or two. Franklin pushed him out the door and brought in someone better. Someone who has had extremely impressive offenses that ranked high in the national numbers for several years.

Whatever it is that Mike Yurcich does with his offense, he’s earned the right to keep doing it now that he’s at Penn State.

If the Lions don’t quite have all the personnel Yurcich needs to make his system go 100 percent, then he’ll have to figure out a way to get the most out of the unit while staying true to who he is and what he likes to do — tempo, throwing a ton, taking a lot of shots down the field.

The hope here is that Franklin doesn’t tie Yurcich’s hands by trying to “blend” the past with the present. Let the new guy do what he wants, what he’s good at — the way Franklin did with Moorhead in 2016 — and maybe we’ll see Sean Clifford, Jahan Dotson, Parker Washington, Noah Cain, Devyn Ford, Keyvone Lee and everyone else on offense do some tremendous things in 2021.

And hey, while we’re at it, maybe we’ll even see a fullback.

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Written By

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, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Eric Reinke

    January 9, 2021 at 7:05 pm

    I think Ciarrocca got a raw deal. To judge a guy on this crazy year, with all the injuries and lack of true practice time is most unfair. I’m surprised by and disappointed in Franklin for making this move. It seems as if his hands were tied to the previous offense. None of this sits well with me, I don’t care how good this guy is you’re bringing.
    Moving on, I’m not sure what role if any a fullback should play in an offense. However, there is merit in committing to a running game and perhaps fullback-type blocking could help. The most effective play in football is the play action pass. It is only effective by having the threat of a running game. And I’m sick of seeing the qb as a running back; please no more rpo bs offense!

    • Cory Giger

      January 9, 2021 at 7:18 pm

      I agree on Ciarrocca. Just to be clear, I’m not saying a fullback will or will not make a big difference. I merely used the fullback as an example of the stubborness of the previous OCs as a way of pointing out they were wrong to ignore something — ANYTHING — that actually might work out of hand without even trying. Same goes for going under center on occasion.

    • Paul Guthy

      January 11, 2021 at 1:11 pm

      i was disappointed in Kirk, it seemed that he ran the same run play for the entire first couple of games until he finally opened things up to late.

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