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Penn State Football: For Moorhead It's Choice Not Chance

on August 05, 2017 10:00 PM

Joe Moorhead is an interesting figure in the State College landscape.

He's well known but isn't trying to be famous, he may have saved the James Franklin era but he isn't trying to take credit for it. He's maybe just a bit more popular than the guy who hired him, but he's deferential to the man making over 4 million a year.

Perhaps not entirely by mistake, nor unrelated to the previous paragraph, he --like his fellow assistant coaches-- is only available to the media during much of the season for a rare teleconference or two. 

So he's accessible, but he also really isn't.

Whatever the labels pinned on Moorhead might be, all he's trying to be is normal. Or at least as much as he can, even if that includes trips to multiple animal shelters to find his family the right cat.

"I did have an older lady to offer to let me use her bonus card at Giant," He said with a laugh on Saturday. "I mean to be honest I really truly see myself as a regular guy. My family and I are involved in the community, my kids play Little League baseball, I helped coach the 10-year old All-Star team this year. It has been very positive but not overwhelming and people are respectful of your privacy but I like to think that I’m approachable so if someone has a comment, compliment or criticism I’m able to take it with a grain of salt."

Of course the criticisms are hard to find following Penn State's Big Ten Championship season. The Nittany Lions can lay claim to one of the most exciting offenses in the game thanks to Moorhead and in no small part the existence of Saquon Barkley. Whatever the cause, the question that remains heading into 2017 is as simple as it has ever been for any team coming off a successful season.

Can you do it again?

This itself is an interesting subject for Moorhead who went to the defense of quarterback Trace McSorley on Saturday. A surprising move if only because McSorley is looking to build on one of the best seasons a quarterback has had in Penn State's long history. Nobody really doubts his talents beyond the backseat nit-picking.

And the question was innocent enough, but Moorhead was clearly looking for even a tangential excuse to bring up something that was clearly on his mind.

Q. What is Trace's next step in his evolution as a quarterback?
MOORHEAD: His next step? Well, I think that brings up an interesting topic. You know kind of this thought process that's prevailing that you hear about -- and frankly, this is gross mischaracterization, number one, of the application of our offense and the role of the quarterback -- that Trace just drops back and picks the deepest receiver and chucks the ball up and hopes the guy makes the play. That's, in a lot of ways, ridiculous at best and, quite frankly, asinine at worst.

I don't have all the answers, but I do know this. A kid couldn't lead the league in multiple passing categories and set school single season records and be on the verge of multiple other school records if he was just throwing the ball indiscriminately down the field. In a lot of ways, I feel that minimizes the role of the people who game plan the plays, the person who calls them, and the player who executes them....

Moorhead would go on, but the point was made, give the kid more credit.

Of course the mild outburst was a bit unexpected, even if warranted. The question now, what caused it in the first place?

"Obviously our staff is very busy on social media," Moorhead said later on. "Especially when you’re scrolling through there and see something about your team or one of your players, we’re human, we read those things. I just feel that the assertion that, that’s what Trace is doing minimizes his preparation and the things that he does during the course of the game. He’s a lot more than that, and I just wanted to go to bat for my player and I just thought it was the right thing to do."

Nobody can blame Moorhead for going to bat for his quarterback, especially when in a lot of respects that quarterback is maybe fourth on the list of people fans give credit for when it comes to the offensive explosion in 2016.

And in many ways the defense of McSorley is also a defense of the complexity that is the Moorhead offense in the first place. There is a certain impression that one might get from watching Penn State that the offense is a "deepest-man-wins" style of play. And to a certain extent it has worked out that way, but by choice, not by chance.

So can they do it again?

"Absolutely," Moorhead said as he adjusted his visor. "That’s the design of our offense and the things that occurred weren’t by chance they were by choice. Attack defensive coverages with schemes that stretch it horizontally or vertically, and create mismatches by number of personnel. I think one of the great examples is that the overwhelming number of the explosive plays that we made this year were in the construct of the scheme and those people were open by a step or more."

"Now when we talk about creating mismatches by number of personnel, if the coverage dictates we throw it to a certain person and he’s open by a step or more, we’re going to hit him in stride and he’s going to go clear into the endzone like the Godwin post-ball against Michigan State or the Gesicki long one against Minnesota, the Saquon wheel route. I could go on and on.But there are certain times when the quarterback is going to make plays by design or by improvisation and Trace certainly did that at times.

"The two routes I juxtapose, the last touchdown we scored against Kent State when Gesicki ran the corner and go, and there was nobody within 20 yards of him. And the touchdown that he threw to Gesicki in the Big Ten Championship game in the corner, that’s the exact same play call. One he was open by 20-yards, and one he was covered. When you’re covered that tightly and it’s by a defender who might not necessarily be able to cover the guy, we tell them to give him a chance. We tell Trace, if he’s covered, throw the ball in a place where only he can get it, or the guy is going to have to fight through him to make a play."

"That’s part of it. When it’s really open, it looks pretty, when it’s covered, we’re going to throw it to a spot where our guy can go up and make a play."

In 2016 the plays were made more often than not. 

And if the Nittany Lions can in fact do it again in 2017, the sky might be the limit, and Moorhead might not be able to be a normal guy for much longer.

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