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Joe Moorhead Talks Penn State Football At The Rose Bowl

The newly minted offensive genius has garnered attention nationwide with his team’s success this season.

NCAA Football: Penn State Spring Game Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

At the start of the season there was great anticipation surrounding new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. Would his scheme take time to work on the field? Was there enough talent on the offensive line to execute any offense, much less a new, more wide-open approach?

Those questions and many more were answered this season as Moorhead guided the young team through adversity, personnel changes, and everything else thrown at them. Today the coach answered even more questions at the Rose Bowl media session.

On the suspension of Saeed Blacknall:

Yeah, it's unfortunate, but throughout the season, we've lost guys to injury, and particularly at the tackle position. Our thought process is to have a next-man-up mentality, and when someone that goes down, the person that replaces them is expected to do as good or better of a job. We're very deep at receiver corps. It's a position of strength for us. So the guys that fill in will come in and do an excellent job.”

DeAndre can play both the inside and outside receiver position. DeAndre plays more the X than the Z. But between DeAndre, Irv, you know, those guys will be able to fill in and do a good job.”

Being contacted by teams that were interested in hiring him as a head coach:

I think first and foremost it's a testament and a compliment to our program and our players that you perform well during the season and other people have interest talking to you. You know, there was, you know, people who were interested in speaking to me about their head coaching positions, and I was willing to listen. Ultimately made the decision that personally and professionally that my family and I wanted to be at Penn State. So a little bit hectic at times, but it comes with the territory.”

Oh, you know, being the offensive coordinator at Penn State's a pretty good job (laughing). You know, when I was at Fordham, I had a an FBS job offered to me and turned that down to stay at Fordham. And the things I said to the people at Fordham is it would take a pretty special opportunity for me to leave there, and obviously, Penn State was that opportunity.”

I'm two hours from my folks. My wife's a couple hours from her family. My kids love it here in State College, and we're a program on the rise, and James is great to work for. We have great kids. It just made the most personal and professional sense to stay here, because great things are on the horizon.”

“I think it's like anything in life. You're doing a great job where you work and people want to come speak to you, you won a couple Keystone Awards, you're doing great with the columns, your leads are on point, all these things are great, and "Sports Illustrated" comes and wants to speak to you. If an opportunity presents itself, at worst I think it's best to listen. Once again, you utilize the criteria, personal and professional. I'm very entrenched here, and to me, my professional success is not determined on becoming a head coach again. If it happens and it's the right situation, fantastic. If not, that's not going to lessen or diminish anything from my end. Like I said, it's great to be at Penn State. It's great to be the offensive coordinator here. If a situation arises and it's right, I'll listen to what people have to say and consider it on an individual basis.”

On the development of sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley:

“I think it's a testament to Trace's preparation and how hard he works at the mental aspect of the game. Of he has a lot of physical tools. He's not the tallest guy. He doesn't have the strongest arm and all those things, but when you combine all the aspects, mental, physical, how well he competes, but just seeing in the first year of a new system, how much he's grown and developed and made plays in critical situations, I think I know it's a testament to Trace and the hard work he's put in, his teammates around him and the fact that he has more time to improve I think is awesome for us.”

Whether his play-calling is more of a science than a ‘seat of the pants’ kind of thing:

“I think we do a great job as an offensive staff during the week compiling our game plan. We sit in a room and go through all the situations first and second down by formation and put our run and pass game plan together. Then third down, red zone, all those things. We kind of have a base game plan that we enter the game with, and you start calling the plays and really it's a matter of seeing how teams are playing, you're seeing how they're adjusting, and what are the chess moves within the game. So I would say it's part game plan recognition, it's part recognition of what the team's doing and the ability to adjust. Having done it for a little bit of time, part of it is feel as well.”

On the method of getting the play to Trace McSorley:

Generally if it's not a play where we're running at our fastest tempo and it's one of the check with me plays, you'd ideally like to get it called before 15 seconds on the clock as Trace does have some latitude not to change the play, but you know what you want him to go through, his presnap checklist of the things he needs to do to make the right read, and then he's responsible for some things in our protection. So you do want to give him enough time to go through the things he needs to see prior to the snap and have good information.

By formation we generally have four or five runs and probably six to eight passes. If it's a play that's called that you can run into a bad look, there's generally only one or two plays that go along with that as a counter punch, so to speak. That is what goes along with when you're anticipating what they're going to run than you react to what they show.

The offensive line’s progression:

First and foremost, the job Coach Limegrover has done has been fantastic, with all the moving parts and guys in and out with injury, losing their top three tackles. Putting Chaz in at right tackle who really hadn't played and Connor as a true freshman. Brian Gaia has done a fantastic job being the anchor and the eyes and ears of the operation. Gonzo hasn't really been up with the first or second team throughout the season, and Ryan really hadn't taken a snap at tackle throughout the season. So the fact that we've been able to go through all those moving parts, number one, shows you how intelligent Ryan is and how well he can adapt to both positions because they are kind of unique. I think it also speaks to how well Coach Limegrover has done getting the guys prepared.”

Trace McSorley whether he has the arm to throw the deep ball:

I mean, it's stronger than you think. To me it's a lot about ball placement, and understanding coverage, pre-snap and post-snap, and that's something I think is great about what we do and unique about our spread. There's kind of a knock about the spread offense that's a dink and dunk, and it's single reads, and the quarterback isn't reading things post snap. And I think that's something that's great about Trace is that we have reads of where he needs to go with the ball based on safety rotation, one high, two high, things like that. Not only is he throwing the deep ball well, he's throwing it to the right person when he's open, so I think that has a lot to do with it, too, that he's been accurate, but he's also made the right reads to get it to the right person within the pass concept.”

He's 6 foot and maybe a little bit of change, but I think that's one of the benefits of being in the shotgun. He throws with a high arm angle. It's really about being able to have a vision in the pocket, and sliding, and being able to find the throwing lanes more than anything. You find some guys 6'4, 6'5, 6'6, and they throw with a low elbow, and essentially it's tantamount to being a 6 foot or 6'1" guy. So he understands. We talk about the width and the depth of the pocket and what he needs to do. We do a lot of work on maneuvering in the pocket, feeling the rush, seeing the coverage. So I think he understands what he needs to do within the pocket. I think one of the great things is when things break down and he escapes, he's able to keep his eyes down field and still go through his progressions as opposed to tucking the ball and running immediately.”

The great thing about Trace is he's a little bit, his approach to the game is a little bit old school. He's not thin skinned. So Trace takes criticism and corrections very well, because he knows it's going to help him improve his game. So throughout the week during film study and during practice, corrections with practice film and on game day, he's a guy who wants to play his best and knows the coaching we're giving him is going to help him get to that. So I think we've got a very good relationship. I think he's done a great job throughout the season, recognizing the fact that the things we're telling him to do are going to help him play better and help our offense perform.”

I think that ability of him to stay and not be too high and not be too low and have that level-headed approach has helped him make the big plays in big situations. But that's not to be mistaken. He's a fiery competitor now. You can see that. But what you want from your quarterback is you don't want him on an emotional roller coaster because you can't be too high with the great plays or too low with the bad plays. You almost have to have the approach that the next play is the most important one.

Dispelling the myth of the 50-50 Ball:

Yeah, well I don't want to say we made a living doing it but we've been successful throwing the ball down the field. That's not only Trace, that's our linemen being able to protect and our receivers and tight ends running the correct routes and them being able to come down with the ball. We'd like to say there's no such thing as a 50-50 ball. It's a 100 ball. When the ball's in the air, it's ours. Our receivers have done a great job going up and making plays, and tight ends and backs as well.”

On the USC defense:

Oh, well, first off, you look from a talent perspective. They're big, strong, and athletic up front. Their linebackers run very well, and they're physical. On the back end they play with a 4, 2, 5 structure. Their DBs cover like corners and support the run like safeties. So I think first and foremost, they're one of the most athletically gifted teams that we've seen so far this season. And then they play a base four down front on first and second down. But they do some unique things from a coverage perspective because they're able to disguise and play with that number of five defensive backs. So I think that from a coverage perspective, our quarterbacks have to do a very good job of presnap and post snap recognition because they do a very good job disguising and kind of mixing in their two-high zones, and their one-high zones, and there are some kind of man concepts within the zone. So it's a very unique, intricate system. Coach Pendergast does a great job with those guys and those numbers speak for themselves.”

USC Cornerback Adoree’ Jackson:

He's incredibly talented. Tremendous straightaway speed. Very confident in his abilities, not afraid to play press. You know, he does a great job with his cover two and his clouds and his jams. You see a bunch of runs throughout the season where you think a guy's free, and he's running to the end zone. Next thing you know, there is a blur across the other side of the screen and he runs him down. There is a reason he's a Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and Jim Thorpe Award and all those things. He's certainly earned that distinction because he's an incredibly, incredibly talented player.”