Yesterday, Penn State fired offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, a day after the Lions mustered just 15 points against Michigan. This just a few weeks removed from the Ohio State game, where the team managed only 12 points. Yet overall, the Lions had one of the highest scoring offenses in the conference. Proof, I suppose, that cupcakes are not, in fact, filling enough to sustain someone.
The offense to me has been more than a little enigmatic. Not just this season, but even going back to 2021. The game that I have in my mind is the Iowa game, wherein the team looked good until starting quarterback Sean Clifford went down with an injury. After having going up 17-3 with 12:31 seconds left in the second quarter, backup Ta’Quan Roberson came in, and for the rest of the game Penn State accumulated 48 yards.
There were a whole bunch of reasons given after the game. First year in a new system, the coaches had prioritized getting Clifford as much training as possible at the expense of the other quarterbacks (red flag?). Kinnick is a tough place to play, let alone for a brand new quarterback like Roberson. Iowa is a tough defense, credit to them.
But the biggest thing that stood out to me from that day was from 12:31 left in the second quarter, over 42 minutes of game time left, the offense never adjusted. We never saw play calls come in that suited Roberson’s strengths. We never saw any changes to the way the team was trying to snap the ball, despite several straight false start penalties because the center couldn’t hear the snap count. No flexibility, little creativity.
Last season, I watched the Lions play reasonably well, and at differing times hold leads against both Michigan and Ohio State, only to squander them. Again, it seemed like the play calling was predictable, or vanilla. Only I know there was creativity in there, because on different occasions we saw the “Philly Special” pulled out, or a designed quarterback run when the defense was keyed on stopping the running backs.
This season, we all hoped - and in some cases, expected - to see Drew Allar bring Mike Yurcich’s offense to life. We’d heard that Sean Clifford was an oval peg in a round hole, someone who could make it work but wasn’t quite designed for it. Allar? Oh ho, Allar was tailormade for it.
What did we get? Receivers unable to gain separation of any kind. Running backs with no holes to run through. Tight ends being required to carry the passing game, because no other options were working.
And you know what? Even that, I was mostly okay with. These are college kids. I don’t expect perfection. A missed block, a wrong read, a poor angle, an off throw. They happen. But what was most infuriating to me was simply never having an identity. When the team would seemingly find something that worked - hey, the tight ends are finding nice soft spots in the zone for reasonable gains, or wouldja look at that, Nicholas Singleton just put together a couple big runs - you’d think the offensive coordinator would see that and keep doing it.
Instead, those calls would just disappear. Other defenses, good ones anyway, didn’t really need to beat you. Because just when you started to do something successful, for some reason you went away from it and beat yourself.
As I said earlier in the season, the two losses this year (so far anyway) were frustrating. It was obvious to anyone watching the games that Penn State very much deserved to be on the same field as those teams. The talent is there, the strength and conditioning is there, they look like they belong.
Why, then, did they continue to struggle? Why did they beat themselves, when they found something that works. Why did they continue to run the same plays that continued to NOT work?
The Mike Yurcich era is over at Penn State, and we will now wait to see what comes next. The hope is that it’s a home run hire a la Manny Diaz, and the team can sort things out on the offensive side of the ball. But after 3 years of continuing to see the same problems over and over again, I know I’m ready for a change, and I can only hope it’s for the better.