Moorhead doesn’t miss deep shot at critics

UNIVERSITY PARK — Of all the great recruiting James Franklin has done since arriving here, a case can be made that no one has made a bigger one-year splash than Joe Moorhead.

Never mind that he’s not a player but the Nittany Lions’ offensive coordinator.

Moorhead took a dormant offense and turned it into arguably the most explosive in Penn State history as the Lions established school records for points, total offense and passing yardage and won the Big Ten championship.

Franklin went from maligned commodity to the national coach of the year, and Moorhead, previously the head coach at Fordham, earned national distinction.

Terry Bradshaw once simplified a free-wheeling passing game by explaining it this way: “If he’s open, throw it deep. If he’s not, throw it anyway!”

Moorhead doesn’t see it that way. In fact, during Media Day festivities Saturday at Beaver Stadium, he took a shot at those who subscribe to Bradshaw’s mentality.

“The things we did throwing the ball down the field didn’t happen by chance. They happened by choice,” Moorhead said in his most outspoken assessment since his PSU tenure began. “This thought process is a gross mischaracterization of the application of our offense. That Trace (McSorley) just drops back, picks the deepest receiver and chucks the ball and hopes the guy makes the play. It’s ridiculous at best and quite frankly asinine at worst.

“A kid couldn’t lead the league in multiple categories and can’t get on the verge of school records if he’s just throwing the ball indiscriminately down the field.”

Approached on the field a few minutes later — Moorhead’s initial comments were made to the entire media contingent — the offensive guru admitted his source was, well, many of you can probably guess it.

“We’re so active on Twitter and social media and you’re scrolling through and read some things,” Moorhead said. “It (perception) is patently false, and I think diminishes the role Trace has with us offensively.”

Moorhead said McSorley’s quick feet, toughness, ability to read defenses and keep his eyes upfield are what enabled the quarterback to lead the nation in yards-per-completion.

“At this level, part of it is finding the matchup and creating mismatches,” Moorhead said. “We try to get as open as we can, but we also we have tremendous confidence in our receivers’ ability to make plays.”

Two of Penn State’s three losses last year were sealed by last-second interceptions at Pitt and against USC.

Moorhead said, those were designed — not desperation — plays, and, please, don’t mention the words “jump ball” to him.

“A jump ball to me is a Hail Mary at the end of the half or the end of the game,” he said. “What we’re doing is throwing the ball to a guy in a position where he can get it. If he’s open, we’ll try to hit him in stride. If not, we’ll try to put it where only he can get it.

“If you want anyone to blame anyone for those two throws (Pitt, USC), blame me,” he said.

Even though the Lions were beaten at Pitt, their offense thrived the rest of the year with the exception of a shellacking at Michigan.

“The early part of the year we had an idea of the offense we had,” Moorhead said. “The Pitt game we scored but weren’t able to close it out. The Michigan game wasn’t good by any means, but by the Maryland game, we kind of hit our stride.”

The stride was so impressive that, by Thanksgiving, Moorhead’s name was being mentioned in connection with head-coaching openings at Purdue, Connecticut and Temple.

It heated up enough with Purdue and UConn that Franklin met with athletic director Sandy Barbour and top deputy Phil Esten in his Indianapolis hotel suite at 2 a.m. while everyone else was celebrating the Big Ten title game win over Wisconsin.

Franklin’s re-recruiting pitch was successful, and Moorhead stayed put.

“I’m very appreciative Coach brought me here and that we’re able to come into this season with high expectations,” Moorhead said. “If an opportunity (head-coaching job) arises, we’ll look at them on an individual basis. But right now, I’m just concentrating on our offense being as good as it can be this year.”

Moorhead, 43, grew up in Pittsburgh, where his parents still live. His wife is from Latrobe. His three children have “settled in great,” he said, adding he also enjoyed helping to coach the pitchers on his youngest son’s Little League team this summer.

So he’s not moving for just any head coaching job, but he may move for the one that feels right.

“Obviously, people have personal goals,” he said. “If it happens down the road, I wouldn’t balk at it, but it would have to be the absolute right situation. I’ve always been told there’s three criteria — personal, professional, monetary. If it happens, fantastic. If it doesn’t, this is a heck of a job, at Penn State, two hours from where I grew up.”

And where his first year’s performance whet the Penn State Nation’s appetite for an encore.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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