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Why does going under center mean so much to PSU fans, media?

Christian Hackenberg going under center during his PSU career

Penn State will be going under center on occasion under new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich. This should not be breaking news, or really even news at all, for a football team.

But it is. In this program, it certainly is.

This is what Yurcich had to say about the advantages of having a QB go under center from time to time:

“I love power football. It’s how I was raised. There’s a time to go under center, I think it provides a lot of advantages. When you can turn your back to the defense they don’t know where the ball is necessarily, so I think your play-action passes can increase. I think that you can sustain a longer suck on the defense on play-action pass because you’re now taking a five-step drop instead of a flash fake out of the gun. So I think that playing under center has a tremendous amount of advantages depending on what your schemes are.”

If you’ve followed Penn State football at all in recent years, you already know that the subject of the quarterback going under center has been a frequent topic of discussion.

But why? What makes it such a big deal to some who follow the Nittany Lions?

The answer is pretty simple.

Penn State has an older fan base than most schools — people who grew up watching Joe Paterno’s teams for decades — and those fans grew very accustomed to seeing football played one way.

The veteran media members, too.

That goes for my good friend and former boss, Neil Rudel of the Altoona Mirror, who often has been the one media member pointing out and asking about whether the QB would be going under center.

Rudel, in fact, was the one who also asked Yurcich earlier this week about going under center and the possibility of using a fullback.

Those two questions may not mean a heck of a lot to fan bases of most programs around the country, but there’s no denying it’s all part of rooting for and covering Penn State.

Joe Paterno was probably the last old-school coach in the country to warm up to the shotgun. The Lions never took a shotgun snap until — and this is hard to believe — a game on Sept. 30, 2000 against Purdue.

Let’s go back in time and see what Rudel wrote about that game, when Rashard Casey made history by becoming the first PSU quarterback to take a shotgun snap. This can be found online from the Pocono Record website:

UNIVERSITY PARK — Thirty-five years into his tenure, Joe Paterno has finally unveiled the shotgun.

Who knows what the next 35 years will bring?

Penn State (2-4) was actually in the formation a total of four plays during Saturday’s 22-20 win over Purdue (3-2). The first play resulted in Rashard Casey getting sacked for a seven-yard loss. Casey also scrambled out of the formation a couple of times and once handed the ball off to Omar Easy for an 18-yard gain.

“We’ve been fooling around with the shotgun since back in the spring but I’ve never had quite enough confidence in the centers,” Paterno said. “This week, we had only one bad one (snap) in practice. I figured we might as well try it.” The crowd noticed immediately.

“I knew we’d get somebody’s attention,” Paterno said, smiling.

(We also got to have some fun with Neil after I tweeted out this story, as Audrey Snyder found this gem of a photo of a younger Rudel.)

As it turned out, the very first shotgun snap in Penn State history turned into an adventure, the kind of adventure that a play-it-close-to-the-vest coach such as Paterno surely didn’t like.

This is from a Daily Collegian story a few years later:

It started out slowly. Very slowly. In fact, the first Penn State shotgun snap went over quarterback Rashard Casey’s head.

“It was an auspicious beginning,” Penn State assistant head coach and offensive coordinator Fran Ganter recalls with a chuckle.

Paterno adapted late in his career and did warm up to the shotgun, but he also still had the QB go under center a lot.

Everything changed for Penn State in 2016 when Joe Moorhead came on board as offensive coordinator and basically decreed that going under center was a criminal offense.

He never did it once in two years. His predecessor, Ricky Rahne, never did it once in two years. Then this past season, Kirk Ciarrocca never did it once.

So, it’s been five full seasons since a Penn State quarterback has taken a snap from under center. Christian Hackenberg last did it in 2015. (Trace McSorley replaced an injured Hackenberg in the TaxSlayer Bowl that season, and I can’t recall if he took a snap under center against Georgia, although I’m guessing he did at least once, since that was part of PSU’s offense.)

There certainly have been situations in recent years when the math showed going under center would have been more beneficial than taking a shotgun snap — like in short-yardage situations on third and fourth downs.

It didn’t matter.

As a matter of principle, Penn State was not going to go under center. Ever.

It was absurd, as I’ve written numerous time, including this piece not too long ago.

As I have said repeatedly, an offensive coordinator who is 1 million percent dead set against trying something that actually could work is just flat out wrong, because it makes you wonder what else he might not consider trying, regardless of the circumstances.

Joe Paterno was dead set against the shotgun for decades, until he finally decided to give it a try with Rashard Casey in 2000.

Yes, Mike Yurich sees the value in going under center. We may not see it often, but we will see it going forward with PSU.

Yurcich doesn’t seem to be married to any singular idea, one way or the other, and just wants to do whatever works. Whether that’s having the QB go under center or — GLORY BE — even seeing a fullback on occasion, this offensive coordinator isn’t going to be too stubborn to try something that can work.

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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.

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