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Penn State Offense Praises Joe Moorhead’s ‘Intriguing’ and ‘Position-Friendly’ System

With the recent firing of Offensive Coordinator John Donovan, Penn State heads into the TaxSlayer Bowl against Georgia with a new offensive coordinator and his new way of looking at offense. Although Joe Moorhead will not assume the offensive coordinator responsibilities for the bowl game — those duties are left to Quarterback Coach and Interim Offensive Coordinator Ricky Rahne — some aspects of Moorhead’s dangerous offense may still make an appearance during the game. In addition, Rahne brings a knowledge of the team’s offense that helped Christian Hackenberg break multiple records throughout the year. With a knowledgable coach at the helm of the offense and another advising and evaluating, the TaxSlayer Bowl may be the best opportunity for the Penn State offense to really show off its skill set with a potentially different game plan from what the Nittany Lions ran all year.

Moorhead was most recently the head coach at Fordham, the same college where he was quarterback in the mid-90’s. He helped turn around a struggling 1-10 team in 2011 all the way to a 12-2 in 2013, the most wins in school history.

Players continually praised Moorhead and his offensive scheme on media day, and everyone seems excited to learn the offense. DaeSean Hamilton said, “It looked pretty interesting. I saw the success that his other teams with that offense had, so I’m looking forward to it.” Chris Godwin also praised Moorhead: “He’s very passionate about what he does. I’m excited for the offense that he brings.”

With Moorhead having such a strong passing game at Fordham, Hamilton was also excited about the success he brought to the wide receivers. “His philosophies are really exciting,” Hamilton said, “and a lot of receivers, we talk, and we saw all the success he had. So, it’s pretty exciting to see what his offense can do.”

The major change Moorhead will bring is his spread offensive scheme, one that is very different from John Donovan’s. While Donovan’s offense worked well with mobile quarterbacks, Moorhead brings in an offense which is capable of working with both mobile and pocket quarterbacks. As Wide Receiver Coach Josh Gattis put it, “It’s a friendly offense for every position.”

Generally, the spread offense has the quarterback out of a shotgun formation, placing three, four, or five wide receiver sets to spread the defense — hence, the name. Often times, a read option can be used with a mobile quarterback, one such as Trace McSorley. With a guy like Hackenberg under center though, a pro-style passing attack will be used.

Although the spread offense worked extremely well for Moorhead at Fordham, the Nittany Lions are unlikely to use it against Georgia. When asked about Moorhead’s offense, Hackenberg said, “I was intrigued about the offense and everything that went into it. From what everyone thinks of spread and stuff, I’ve never really ran a spread offense in my life.”

So, if Moorhead’s spread offense (which gave Fordham a top-20 spot in passing yards per game and a top-four spot in pass touchdowns per game) will not be used against Georgia, how exactly does he fit into this game? The answer to that is the skill set and knowledge he brings to the offense. Rahne has already helped Hackenberg break Penn State records in passing yards and touchdowns, so a little help from Moorhead will only help Hackenberg even more.

Rahne will most likely want Hackenberg to stay in his most comfortable passing position — in the pocket. Moorhead may want to add a little bit of the spread to Rahne’s game plan to try and open up Georgia’s defense. Either way, this game will show more than any other this season the skill the Penn State offense has.

The game plan for the TaxSlayer Bowl will not be complicated, and it will rest on the shoulders of two very important players. Saquon Barkley and Hackenberg are expected to lead the offense under Rahne and Moorhead’s game plans. In what could very well be Hackenberg’s last game in a Penn State uniform, he finally has an offensive scheme and game plan which can showcase his abilities, much like the one he had under Bill O’Brien. Two coaches who bring dangerous passing games in Rahne and Moorhead will go up against a team with the top-ranked pass defense in the nation. Something will have to give on January 2, and with the new and improved offensive scheme the Nittany Lions will have, a top-ranked quarterback and incredibly talented wide receivers may just prove to be the difference in the TaxSlayer Bowl.

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About the Author

Matt Coleman

Matt Coleman is a writer for Onward State. His hometown is North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, a little under an hour from Pittsburgh. He is a sophomore majoring in Natural Resource Engineering in Biological Engineering. Please e-mail questions and comments to [email protected] Also, follow him on Twitter @cole_man2.

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