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Midweek Musings - On Kirk Ciarocca

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In which the noblest armchair quarterback of all time dishes out his sage wisdom on the coaching hire

Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As was announced a week ago, Kirk Ciarocca will be Penn State’s next offensive coordinator, leaving the same position from Minnesota. BSD took a look at some of the stats regarding Ciarocca’s offense, and other than TE usage, it appears that most of the same elements we’re used to seeing from the Blue and White will still be there, albeit with some tweaks.

Overall, I am whelmed by the hire.

Personally, I was all in on Joe Brady, who has electrified the LSU offense, and been a large part of why the Tigers are in the national championship game. But other than a couple years spent as a graduate assistant with Franklin, Brady doesn’t have a ton of ties to the team or the area (though his girlfriend is a PSU alum, so there’s that!), and it’s all but guaranteed that he’ll be making as much or more as a Co-OC than PSU would offer him. Probably better for him that he wait another year, then head off as a head coach somewhere.

So, if Brady is out, what next? Let’s examine the likely list of qualifications that James Franklin had in mind when he began his search for the next OC:

  1. A proven track record as a game day signal caller, with a feel for in-game adjustments
  2. History as a solid QB coach
  3. A similar offensive scheme as the Moorhead system

I have to think that those three criteria drastically reduced the number of likely candidates. Finding a coach that won’t require a complete revamp of offensive schemes that have been in place since 2016, that can coach up Sean Clifford and co., and that has experience and skill in calling the game and updating a gameplan based on what’s actually happening must have been somewhat daunting.

Kirk Ciarocca checks all of those boxes, and so from that perspective, I think he’s a very solid hire.

What worries me is that for as good an offense as Minnesota ran, I’m not sure it’s playoff-caliber. For reference, Penn State’s strength of schedule was slated as #9 in the country, vs Minnesota at #21.

Against the ninth toughest schedule, Penn State managed 35.8 points per game (15th overall), 192.0 rushing yards per game (36th), and 221.3 passing yards per game (76th).

Against the twenty-first toughest schedule, Minnesota managed 34.1 points per game (21st), 178.9 rushing yards per game (47th), and 253.3 passing yards per game (47th).

Do any of those stats jump out at you as world-beating?

How about against common opponents? In 2019, both teams played Purdue, Iowa, Rutgers, and Maryland. Against the bottom-feeders (Purdue, Rutgers, and Maryland), Penn State averaged 40.3 points, 215.3 rushing yards, and 255.3 passing yards, while Minnesota went 44.0 points, 203.7 rushing yards, and 272.7 passing yards.

Against Iowa, the only really good team both PSU and Minnesota played, the Lions scored 17 points, rushed for 177 yards, and passed for 117 yards. Minnesota scored 19 points, rushed for 63 yards, and passed for 368 yards.

In general, it just seems like what Minnesota did on offense under Ciarocca is more or less what Penn State did on offense under Ricky Rahne. Does anyone think the current Penn State offense is playoff worthy?

So, overall, I am whelmed. With Rahne departing, James Franklin had to find a new offensive coordinator. I think it was the right move to look outside of Lasch, as the offense had grown somewhat stagnant. I also think that finding a coordinator that ticked off all of the boxes Franklin was looking for narrowed the pool of candidates greatly.

The grand slam hire would have been Joe Brady, no questions about it. Kirk Ciarocca is being touted by many as a home run in this analogy, and I’m hopeful that the talent increase from Minnesota to Penn State means that KC’s offense takes a big leap from the 2019 Gopher production.

Time will tell, but I’m in the wait-and-see camp (for now). Give me a few more weeks of discussion on how Ciarocca’s offense is perfect for Penn State’s playmakers, and I’ll be back aboard the 15-0 or GTFO train.