Penn State’s Ciarrocca hasn’t lost confidence
Today: Penn State at Rutgers, noon
Records: Penn State (1-5); Rutgers (2-4)
TV: Fox Sports 1
Latest line: PSU favored by 11.5
When things aren’t going well — despite Penn State’s one-game winning streak – coaches who have enjoyed past success typically refer to their track record.
It’s been James Franklin’s mantra most of the season as he’s often referred to “if you look at the last six years.”
Kirk Ciarrocca is in his first year as the Nittany Lions’ offensive coordinator and while wrapping up a Zoom session with the PSU football beat Thursday, he went to the same card as his boss has played throughout this 1-5 start heading into Rutgers today (noon kickoff, FS1).
“I’m very confident in my ability to build a top-flight offense here,” Ciarrocca said. “I’ve been able to do that in other places.”
Head coaches and quarterbacks generally absorb the bulk of fans’ frustration when progress isn’t up to snuff. OCs aren’t far behind.
Ciarrocca knows that, which is one reason he stays away from social media.
“I understand what comes with the position,” he said. “We’re going to be judged on those results each Saturday. I get that. I’ve been in the business a long time. I don’t listen to the outside when it’s going really good, and I don’t listen to the noise when it’s going bad.
“The ride from the outhouse to the penthouse is very short in this profession. And vice versa. I’ve been in both places. I’ve spent a little more time, fortunately, in the penthouse or I wouldn’t be here.”
A York County native and former Juniata College defensive back, Ciarrocca has been in coaching for the past 30 years, starting with a graduate assistant’s job at Temple, developing Joe Flacco at Delaware, coaching under Greg Schiano at Rutgers and coordinating P.J. Fleck’s offense at Western Michigan and then Minnesota since 2013.
His Gophers totally outschemed the Lions last year, freeing wide-open receivers all over the field, in scratching PSU from the unbeaten ranks.
And yet a month prior, Ciarrocca said Thursday, “The (Minnesota) fan base and media were all over me. I told them I didn’t know when we’d be on all cylinders and the question wasn’t if but when. And I feel the same away about this group.”
Anticipation for his arrival was high, with the return of quarterback Sean Clifford, a veteran offensive line and serviceable, young skill players.
But Clifford’s ineffectiveness, at least until last week — “I think he’s been trying to be too perfect,” Ciarrocca said — along with season-ending surgery to Pat Freiermuth and the sidelining of tailbacks Journey Brown and Noah Cain slowed the development.
Penn State is scoring 10 fewer points per game (25.0) than last year, and although the Lions move the ball, averaging 417 yards per game (over last year’s 391) they are among the nation’s worst in scoring territory.
The Nits currently rank No. 125 out of 130 FBS teams in red-zone offense.
Too often, they’ve tried the low-percentage fade pattern, which Ciarrocca said has worked in practice.
“We haven’t been able to execute it as well in the games,” he said. “Against man coverage, coordinators like it because it’s usually pretty safe — where your guy can make the play or nobody makes the play. We’ve got to continue to diversify down there (red zone) and put our guys in better position to make plays.”
He saw progress in a no-turnover, no-sack effort at Michigan last week and is eager for continued growth.
“It’s definitely still a work in progress,” he said. “The offense is not where I want it to be, and the results haven’t been what we want them to be, but what I love about this culture is the guys are working hard.
“Am I happy with the results? Absolutely not. But I do trust the process and I’ve been in a lot worse situations than this from a productivity standpoint and we’ve always managed to come out the other side and been really, really good. I see the pieces here that we can be really good.
“I think (with) the resume and track record and results, it will work out. We’ll get there. When? We’ll see.”
Today wouldn’t be too soon.
Rudel can be reached at email@example.com. If you’d like to register for the Mirror’s free “Lion Online” newsletter, an account of Saturday’s game, click bit.ly/2SAy1J4. It’s emailed at noon each Sunday.