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Penn State’s Tempo, YOLO, and Moorhead for all!

Can Trace McSorley keep up his torrid 2016 pace, or will Joe Moorhead and James Franklin walk it back and rely more heavily on Saquon Barkley?

Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual - USC v Penn State Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

One more day of this potluck thing and I’ll stop picking only Pennsylvania Dutch recipes, I suppose, but today I learned that chicken pot pie, to Central PA, isn’t actually chicken pot pie. No, it’s soup:

See? Soup.
“The Best 23 Foods Invented in PA”:

And, like this soup masquerading as chicken pot pie, we’ve been awfully critical of Penn State fans for masquerading their perpetual game of “500” as anything other than YOLO-ball. (No doubt the morning article has...already gone that way.)

But the always-wonderful team-by-team preview from Bill Connelly noted something surprising about Penn State’s offensive attack in 2016:

If I hadn’t watched a single second of Penn State and only had the stats in front of me, I would reach two broad conclusions:

1. With that many big gains and negative plays, the Nittany Lions either had a running back who danced around far too much or a line that couldn’t block a good Division II front.

2. Relying that much on big plays is not sustainable.

Barkley risks short losses for huge gains, but the eyeballs suggest that the proper answer to Conclusion No. 1 is that the line was still a mess. And its improvement is the key to addressing Conclusion No. 2.


Be it Barkley’s fault or not, he did lose yardage a lot. That put Trace McSorley in lots of awkward down-and-distance situations, and wow, did McSorley come through. PSU ranked 68th in Rushing S&P+ and second in Passing S&P+. After the Michigan debacle, he was held below a 150 passer rating just twice: against a top-10 Ohio State pass defense and in cold, wet conditions at Rutgers.

So despite the optics of Saquon Barkley (obviously one of, if not the best running back in the conference), the Penn State offense achieves its high marks because of the explosiveness of the McSorley-led aerial attack.

While Townie would like to pooh-pooh the S&P+ folks, we need to come to terms with the disparity in the Penn State offense: while it was 2nd in IsoPPP, it rated 80th in efficiency, and despite roaring to life in the second half of the season (see the 2017 preview for the optics), questions at wide receiver mean we could theoretically see similar struggles this year.

Which brings us to pace.

After Connelly noted Penn State’s slower pace of play—apparently a James Franklin hallmark—in 2015, Football Study Hall’s Jake Troch demonstrated that the Penn State pace rank (time between plays) had increased markedly in 2016 (here’s the jpeg of his graph, and here’s the Google doc).

Shut up and ask the question, MNW. Goddamnit are these intros long.

Fuck you, bold header.

My question, then, combines the two, much like Pennsylvania Chicken Pot Pie combines chicken soup with being wrong: With a new-ish receiving corps and the bell-cow that is Saquon Barkley in the backfield, do you expect the Nittany Lion offense to replicate its almost-torrid pace and eye-popping results in 2017? Will McSorley continue YOLO-ball (lazy, but bear with me), or will Joe Moorhead rely more heavily on Barkley and a slower tempo—and will either the former or the latter have its consequences?

And a bonus: Would you trade Joe Moorhead—straight up—for your OC? Why (not)?

GF3: I’ll take the bonus and the core question at once: Not a fucking chance. Ohio State is home to the most innovative and effective (and...meanest) offensive mind in the conference.

Moorhead is an average to above-average OC whose shortcomings were masked by the uncanny playmaking and unreal athleticism of players like McSorleYOLO and Godwin (did PSU have any offensive plan for the Rose Bowl except for throwing jump balls to Godwin?). He’s going to have a hard time this year if he can’t harness some sort of consistency in the running game, which begins up front (duh).

Bill C., as always, hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that Moorhead basically ran a wing-and-a-prayer offense in Happy Valley. It showed in games like Michigan and Pitt (somehow PSU only scored 10 points on Michigan because of their own linebackers being out).

If Moorhead can make the parts add up to some greater whole, PSU could be a beast...and without the benefit of Godwin in the lineup, he’s left with little chance to repeat his old tricks.

GF: It’s time to talk openly about the wonderful return of the deep ball, a staple that has been edited slowly out of playbooks in favor of efficient short throws and bubble screens. Back in my day, you ran 85% of the time to set up the deep pass. Even the Spread HD with Derrick Williams and Daryll Clark and Royster was a “beautiful spacing” concept.

So to see Penn State allowing McYoloBall to become a thing, well good. Whip it deep. Let’s make it happen.

Jesse: That’s right. I’m partaking in TWO potluck questions this week. It’s like I magically found time to make both a nice Jell-O salad AND a tater-tot casserole.

Anyhow, I find myself convinced that we’re going to see Penn State come out trying to be more deliberative and end up with McSorley and company chucking the ball deep in hopes of striking gold a la every Nebraska offense that has worked in the past decade. Barkley absolutely is one of - if not - the absolute best back in the conference and the Lions should lean on him, but to win, PSU is going to need to score some damn points and I’m not so sure that it happens if teams just stack the box and what not.

All that said, I don’t mind YOLO ball all that much. You never know what’s going to happen. If I’m a Nittany Lions fan, I watch Ameer Abdullah Nebraska led by Taylor Martinez and get ready for a year of wonderful ups and downs.

Speth: Can’t hate on the Penn State offense. Four verticals and a Heisman caliber running back is exactly what I used at 8 years old in NCAA Football 2000. Of course it should work realistically in 2017 in real life.

Bonus Question: Joe Moorhead runs the same offense as 8 year old Speth. No I would not trade Joe Rudolph for 8 year old Speth.

Bonus bonus question: Is NCAA Football 2000 the most realistic game in human history? A-fucking-pparently since PSU won the Big Ten in 2016 with a carbon copy of the offense of the one 8 year old Speth used with Wisconsin almost 17 years earlier with the same result. That being said, if Franklin wants to win a natty he needs to run more triple option plays. Quarterbacks can be concussed 4 times in the same season with no problems, just asked Brady Hoke. Absolutely trivial if he can barely stand, he’s your best QB and pitches the best.

MNW: I mean, I’m lying if I say I’m not looking for a reason to get rid of Mick McCall. So yeah, I’d make that trade straight up, but while I like Justin Jackson in a Moorhead offense, Northwestern doesn’t have the wideouts to make it happen.

There’s a natural regression to the Penn State offense this year—I don’t think that scoring pace is replicable. But I also like Barkley to make up that gap: he and McSorley will improve on the 68th rushing S&P+ rating, and McSorley will regress from 2nd in passing. And that’s where the pace comes in—I think Franklin will tug the offense back in a slightly slower direction when the passing offense flags. Avoiding an early trip-up against Pitt or at Iowa by establishing the run and increasing efficiency (relying on Mike Gesicki would be a good idea) in the passing game will prove if Franklin and Moorhead can insulate the Nittany Lion offense against regression and try to repeat 2016. But I’m skeptical, and Jesse’s Abdullah-Martinez analogy is...frightening.

WSR: **Answer censored due to embargo on comments that veer eerily close to discussing what actually caused SANCTIONS and the difficulty that PSU was forced to overcome.** So yeah, they’ll score quite a bit and without consequences.

And as for Joe Moorhead, no. I’d rather see what Kirk Ciarrocca can do here before calling for his head.

LPW: Penn State will be dangerous on offense this year. It would be interesting to be in the mind of a DC that has to defend four verts and a hesiman capable running back.

Trading Mick McCall for Moorhead is a wonderful idea !

Stew: Dammit, MNW basically took my answer. There’s just no way that Yoloball will be as effective this year. However, I don’t think they’ll need it nearly as much, either. The line will likely be better, a year older Barkley, a year older McSorley, and the loss of some big WRs. It’ll be a more efficient, less explosive, slightly slower offense. This is the #B1G, after all.

Stay tuned for more of your favorite arguments, as tomorrow we pivot to talking Linebacker U, then the week reaches its due climax with record predictions and haaaaate!


In 2017 Penn State’s offense will...

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    Improve: McSorley is the real deal throwing the ball, and Barkley improves — top 10 offense
    (91 votes)
  • 20%
    Improve: Mostly on the back of Barkley, with some pass regression — around 15th
    (43 votes)
  • 21%
    A little regression: some of those passes will get dropped, Barkley continues to produce — still a Top 25 offense
    (45 votes)
  • 7%
    McSorley regresses hard, Barkley can’t make up the difference — top half, but not much more
    (16 votes)
  • 5%
    2015 Northwestern
    (12 votes)
207 votes total Vote Now

Potluck Schedule:

Monday: Penn State, National Titles, and Big Ten Expansion
Tuesday: Tempo, YOLO, and Moorhead for all!
Wednesday: Is there any escaping Linebacker U?
Thursday: In-State Rivals, Non-Conference Schedules, and Predictions