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Statistically Speaking: Mike Yurcich’s Offense

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Taking a closer look at Penn State’s new offensive coordinator.

Penn State Athletics

Last year when Penn State hired Kirk Ciarrocca, I took a closer look at how Ciarrocca compared to Joe Moorhead and Ricky Rahne on a number of key statistics: run/pass percentage, “explosive” plays, and time of possession. What we found out then was that Ciarrocca’s offense shared some similarities with the Moorhead/Rahne offense — most notably, the penchant for running the ball. We also saw where they differed: valuing time of possession.

Let’s do that practice again. This time, we’ll throw (!!this is foreshadowing!!) Yurcich’s numbers into the mix.

1. Run vs. Pass

First and foremost, let’s start with the most simple metric in football: how often do you run the ball versus how often do you pass? If you remember, both Moorhead/Rahne and Ciarrocca’s offenses had a heavy emphasis on the run — in the large majority of seasons, both offenses ran more than 55% of the time. As you’ll see with Yurcich, that isn’t quite the case.

Moorhead/Rahne

  • 2016: Penn State - 58% rush vs. 42% pass
  • 2017: Penn State - 50% rush vs. 50% pass
  • 2018: Penn State - 58% rush vs. 42% pass
  • 2019: Penn State - 57% rush vs. 43% pass

Kirk Ciarrocca

  • 2013: Western Michigan - 47% rush vs. 53% pass
  • 2014: Western Michigan - 57% rush vs. 43% pass
  • 2015: Western Michigan - 57% rush vs. 43% pass
  • 2016: Western Michigan - 63% rush vs. 37% pass
  • 2017: Minnesota - 69% rush vs. 31% pass
  • 2018: Minnesota - 60% rush vs. 40% pass
  • 2019: Minnesota - 64% rush vs. 36% pass
  • 2020: Penn State - 56% rush vs 44% pass

Mike Yurcich

  • 2013: Oklahoma State - 51% rush vs. 49% pass
  • 2014: Oklahoma State - 56% rush vs. 44% pass
  • 2015: Oklahoma State - 47% rush vs. 53% pass
  • 2016: Oklahoma State - 51% rush vs. 49% pass
  • 2017: Oklahoma State - 50% rush vs. 50% pass
  • 2018: Oklahoma State - 51% rush vs. 49% pass
  • 2020: Texas Longhorns - 52% rush vs 48% pass

Yurcich is much more focused on the pass than Penn State fans have normally been accustomed to, but I think these numbers also point out that Yurcich’s offense isn’t total “Big 12 Pass-Happy Air Raid.” Yes, Yurcich is going to air it out more than other offensive coordinators have, but as we see (very close to consistent 50/50 splits), the running game is still a big part of what he wants to do.

I think more than anything though, it won’t be so much about Yurcich’s “lesser” focus on the run, but rather how he is having Penn State run the ball. The inside zone will still be a staple, but I would expect more outside zone runs and counters than we’ve seen in the past — especially this past season with Ciarrocca.

2. “Explosive” Plays

Since James Franklin has been at Penn State, one of the few things that hasn’t changed about his offensive philosophy is the need for big plays. Whether it was John Donovan (Penn State ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten in explosive plays in 2015!), Moorhead, Rahne, Ciarrocca, or now Yurcich, we are going to hear Franklin hammer home the importance of explosive plays.

As a reminder, “explosive” plays are passes or runs that go for more than 30 yards.

Moorhead/Rahne

  • 2016: Penn State - 1st in Big Ten (30+ yards)
  • 2017: Penn State - 2nd in Big Ten (30+ yards)
  • 2018: Penn State - 5th in Big Ten (30+ yards)
  • 2019: Penn State - 2nd in Big Ten (30+ yards)

Kirk Ciarrocca

  • 2013: Western Michigan - 11th in MAC (30+ yards)
  • 2014: Western Michigan - 3rd in MAC (30+ yards)
  • 2015: Western Michigan - 2nd in MAC (30+ yards)
  • 2016: Western Michigan - 2nd in MAC (30+ yards)
  • 2017: Minnesota - 14th in Big Ten (30+ yards)
  • 2018: Minnesota - 9th in Big Ten (30+ yards)
  • 2019: Minnesota - 5th in Big Ten (30+ yards)
  • 2020: Penn State - *3rd in Big Ten (30+ yards)

*Tied for 3rd with three other teams, so the stat is a bit misleading due to the sample size

Mike Yurcich

  • 2013: Oklahoma State - 2nd in Big 12 (30+ yards)
  • 2014: Oklahoma State - 5th in Big 12 (30+ yards)
  • 2015: Oklahoma State - 4th in Big 12 (30+ yards)
  • 2016: Oklahoma State - 2nd in Big 12 (30+ yards)
  • 2017: Oklahoma State - 2nd in Big 12 (30+ yards)
  • 2018: Oklahoma State - 3rd in Big 12 (30+ yards)
  • 2020: Texas Longhorns - 1st in Big 12 (30+ yards)

So here, Yurcich certainly aligns more with Moorhead/Rahne. Not that explosive plays weren’t a part of Ciarrocca’s offense — as we see above, when it was humming, the explosive plays came — but Ciarrocca was much more aligned with “the small plays give you the big plays” mindset, whereas Moorhead (and even Rahne) pushed the envelope more. We’re going to see a return to that mindset, as Yurcich is going to let it fly and attack defenses much more vertically.

3. Time of Possession

This is the most important piece of the puzzle. The biggest philosophical switch from Moorhead/Rahne —> Ciarrocca was that time of possession was now going to be a major focus. With Yurcich coming in, that will reverse course once again.

Moorhead/Rahne

  • 2016: Penn State - 27:44 (12th in Big Ten)
  • 2017: Penn State - 30:20 (7th in Big Ten)
  • 2018: Penn State - 27:41 (14th in Big Ten)
  • 2019: Penn State - 28:27 (11th in Big Ten)

Kirk Ciarrocca

  • 2013: Western Michigan - 28:42 (10th in the MAC)
  • 2014: Western Michigan - 32:46 (3rd in the MAC)
  • 2015: Western Michigan - 34:33 (1st in the MAC)
  • 2016: Western Michigan - 34:02 (1st in the MAC)
  • 2017: Minnesota - 30:57 (4th in Big Ten)
  • 2018: Minnesota - 32:09 (4th in Big Ten)
  • 2019: Minnesota - 33:25 (3rd in Big Ten)
  • 2020: Penn State - 33:41 (4th in Big Ten)

Mike Yurcich

  • 2013: Oklahoma State - 26:34 (10th in Big 12)
  • 2014: Oklahoma State - 27: 59 (9th in Big 12)
  • 2015: Oklahoma State - 29:28 (5th in Big 12)
  • 2016: Oklahoma State - 28:50 (6th in Big 12)
  • 2017: Oklahoma State - 28:06 (8th in Big 12)
  • 2018: Oklahoma State - 27:26 (10th in Big 12)
  • 2020: Texas Longhorns - 27:47 (9th in Big 12)

People complained about Ciarrocca’s “dink and dunk” offense, which certainly had its negatives. It took Penn State a long time to score, which when you’re a mediocre offense (which Penn State was this past season), wasn’t a good thing because you aren’t giving yourself as many possessions to score. Here’s what I said about the TOP debate last year:

The TOP argument is an interesting one. You can absolutely find numbers out there that say having the highest TOP is meaningless for an offense — case in point, Moorhead’s 2016 offense. They didn’t possess the ball a ton, but boy oh boy, could they score. What isn’t meaningless, though? The effect TOP has on a defense. The less your offense is out there, the more your defense is. The more your defense is playing, the more tired it is going to be. So while leading the conference in TOP shouldn’t be something an offense should necessarily strive for, you also don’t want it in the lower-fourth either — so like we were saying, a happy medium compromise seems apt.

So I certainly understand the idea behind a clock-controlling offense — it just seems more difficult to produce in reality than theory. College football has been changing for a long time now, and even Nick Saban said this year that offense wins championships. So if you have a good offense that can score, the best idea might just be to let them score. With Yurcich, that most certainly is his philosophy: score as fast as possible. Expect a lot more no huddle and a lot more uptempo, trying to keep the defense on its heels.