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.
Penn State's James Franklin was asked at tonight's radio show about whether a power formation can be added to current offense. His response: pic.twitter.com/qa4479dc3H
— Greg Pickel (@GregPickel) September 28, 2017
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.
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.”
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.
Injuries, QB turnovers & no spring drills impacted Penn State's offense in a big way in 2020.
But I got the feeling that Kirk Ciarrocca never felt comfortable integrating his system at PSU, based in part on our Zoom press conference exchange on Dec. 3: pic.twitter.com/2JqQWqGuem
— Mike Poorman (@PSUPoorman) January 8, 2021
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.