Moorhead set to overhaul PSU offense

The Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE — Joe Moorhead won't officially begin overhauling Penn State's maligned offense until the Nittany Lions finish their bowl game in two weeks. But Penn State's new offensive coordinator has already begun his work.

Joe Moorhead

It started with an initial interview with coach James Franklin, which lasted five hours until 2:47 a.m., said Moorehead — a stickler for details. He left feeling like Franklin was offering an opportunity that differed from others he'd received to leave Fordham, where he built an FCS offensive juggernaut.

The dozens of conversations Moorhead and Franklin have had since that initial sit-down have only strengthened those feelings. They've given both coaches a solid understanding of what Penn State needs to progress after lackluster seasons where sacks were frequent, rushing success minimal, explosive plays hit or miss and sluggish tempos commonplace.

But Moorhead, decked out in a Penn State pullover at his introductory press conference at Beaver Stadium on Wednesday, won't use the team's TaxSlayer Bowl matchup with Georgia as a testing ground.

That will come in spring practice in March.

"It's about sitting down and getting to meet the kids and being out at practice and more observing the talent than anything like that," Moorhead said. "I don't think it's fair for me right now, not knowing our personnel, not being here the whole year, that's not necessarily something that I think would benefit the team."

While quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne draws up a game plan for the Bulldogs, Moorhead will meet with offensive players to pick their brains about what worked and didn't over the last two seasons. In that span, Penn State ranked 106th and 114th in total offense under former coordinator John Donovan, who was fired after the regular season finale against Michigan State.

Among the players Moorhead will meet with are a group of running backs and wide receivers Franklin called the unit's deepest corps.

Penn State will return its top five receivers and four running backs including dynamic freshman Saquon Barkley, who set Penn State's single-season rushing yardage record for a freshman despite missing two games and running behind an offensive line that struggled.

Moorhead declared he would not try to "fit a square peg into a round hole," a criticism Donovan faced for not opening the offense up for strong-armed quarterback Christian Hackenberg.

"I think a successful offense is able to adapt their scheme to the personnel," Moorhead said. "And that was part of the processes coach and I went through very exhaustively over a couple of weeks that things that I like to do offensively, and the things that I plan to implement, I think the pieces are in place for us to do that."

It could happen without Hackenberg, however. The junior quarterback has not committed to returning to Penn State for his senior year and has only said he'd decide after the season. If he does return, he could find himself in an offense more suited to his abilities.

Hackenberg thrived as a freshman in Bill O'Brien's pro-style offense. He played his best game in the season finale against Wisconsin in 2012 adapting to O'Brien's multiple tempos and was often at his best when Penn State opted for a no-huddle approach.

Penn State rarely employed no-huddle schemes with Donovan with an inability to quickly relay play calls and varying degrees of failure on early downs as primary reasons.

"We want to dictate the tempo," Moorhead said. "We want to be aggressive. We want to be attacking. We want to be physical in the run game to create explosive plays in the pass game and do that while limiting turnovers, being successful on third downs and scoring touchdowns in the red zone."

Save for protecting the ball, the Nittany Lions weren't successful in the other areas. They converted just 28 percent of third-down plays and scored touchdowns on just 53.6 percent of their red zone trips.

Meanwhile, Moorhead led Fordham out of FCS obscurity to three consecutive playoff berths after inheriting a team that finished 1-10 in 2011. He led the Rams to a 12-2 finish in 2013 and a Patriot League championship in 2014. Moorhead went 38-13 at Fordham, where he played quarterback in the '90s.

Under Moorhead, Fordham was consistently ranked among the top offenses in the FCS. His offenses set 16 school records in 2013 and 2014 and boasted the ninth-best scoring offense with 36.8 points per game.

''The more I talked to Joe, the more I believed in him," Franklin said. "As time goes and the more conversations you have and the more research you do, at some point the light kind of comes on."