Penn State’s offensive coordinator change raises a question for which we likely won’t get a clear answer:
Did this happen because Mike Yurcich is James Franklin’s guy or because Franklin realized Kirk Ciarrocca wasn’t?
A clear answer may not exist, which is to say that the truth is probably somewhere in between.
Penn State was second in the Big Ten in total offense and third in scoring offense in 2020. Given that both the proven elite running backs on the roster a year ago, Journey Brown and Noah Cain, were out of the picture almost from the jump, that’s not bad.
Given that seven offensive starters were back not counting Brown and Cain, including the quarterback and essentially the entire offensive line, which are the most essential components of any offense, it’s not good enough.
Penn State finished out of the national top 100 in turnover margin, sacks allowed and red-zone efficiency. An OC may not be able to do much about the first two of those elements, but he certainly impacts the last of them, the red zone stuff.
So how did Ciarrocca do in one year?
Obviously, the pandemic was a huge and unprecedented factor in his ability to install his system. Unlike many of its Big Ten brethren, Penn State had no spring practice, and was also breaking in new position-coaches on the offensive line and at wide receiver.
Joe Moorhead’s system, which Penn State ran from 2016-19, had identifiable characteristics - no-huddle, check-with-me, multi-level routes, etc. Ciarrocca’s didn’t really, unless you count fade routes in the end zone, which Nittany Nation would rather not.
Throw these factors together, and you wonder if we really got to see full-blown Ciarrocca-ball.
His only in-season press conference, Dec. 2, included this exchange between Ciarrocca and Mike Poorman of StateCollege.com:
MP: “How much of the offense these days is yours and how much is what was here? And then when you walked in the door, were there any basic offensive tendencies, or tenants that came from James that were intractable?”
KC: “I'd have to sit down and really look at it and evaluate that question, … Ultimately it’s on the offensive coordinator, so I own it all, you know, I don't really think about it like that right now.
“You know we're trying, we're doing what we think gives us the best chance to win the game on Saturday, … I don't have a real answer for you on that, other than what I just said.’’
Anyway, it’s Yurcich’s baby now. Penn State’s offense will be no-huddle and tempo-driven, but that describes at least half of college football right now. Yurcich seems anything but typical.
His read to stardom, recounted in a story by ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg in 2017, began when Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy found him on the Internet, tracked him down at a hotel on the recruiting trail, and offered a three-year, $400,000 contract.
He had been making $52,000.
In 2020, at Texas, he made $1.7 million. That doesn’t necessarily mean Penn State offered more than that, since the head-coaching change at Texas made him a free agent. But it’s a lock that Penn State will pay its 2021 coordinators, Yurcich and Brent Pry, over $3 million combined.
Franklin is swinging big here. For now, that’s probably the headline.
Sean Fitz of 24/7 Sports described it Friday as, “a big-boy move,”:
"(Yurcich is) a guy that, in terms of name-brand recognition, in terms of the records that he's set, the style of offense that he brings — it's just kind of like, 'OK, this is an announcement on the college football landscape,' and you don't really see that from Penn State all that often."