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Penn State Football: Assessing the Rahne-McSorley Partnership

by on February 15, 2018 9:30 PM

How will Ricky Rahne do as quarterback Trace McSorley's permanent play-caller and position coach?

Based on nearly 100 minutes and 128 snaps of game-time together, just fine thank you.

(To say nothing of their six years together, going back to the days when Rahne was recruiting McSorley to go to Vanderbilt.)

Those minutes and plays cover a limited sample size of 2.5 quarters in the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl and the entire 2017 Fiesta Bowl.

In both instances — pre- and then post-Joe Moorhead — McSorley was the QB and Rahne was the OC and quarterback coach.

It was Rahne, if you recall, who was calling the plays and coaching the QBs when McSorley relieved an injured Christian Hackenberg midway through the Jan. 1, 2016, TaxSlayer Bowl, with the score tied 3-3. (JoeMo, on board all of two weeks, sat in the press box as Rahne took charge.)

And it was Rahne who resumed his role as quarterback coach, and began his duties as Penn State's permanent offensive coordinator after Moorhead — Penn State's quarterback coach and offensive coordinator for the 2016-17 seasons — left in late November to become head coach at Mississippi State.

McSorley's stat line for those bowl games: 46 of 68 for 484 yards passing, with 4 TD tosses and 2 interceptions. He also carried the ball 19 times for 91 yards.

Specifically, against Georgia McSorley was 14 of 27 for 142 yards, with 2 TDs, and 7 for 31 yards rushing. In the Fiesta Bowl against Washington, McSorley was 32 of 41 for 342 yards, with 2 TDs and 2 interceptions, with 12 runs for 61 yards.

Those two contests are the bookends of McSorley's stellar career thus far. In both instances, Rahne set his quarterback loose, as a runner, option man, pinpoint passer and decision-maker. (And, with little luck, shovel-passer.) All, with just one sack, as in those two Rahne-led bowl games the Nittany Lion offense passed 69 times and ran 59, while scoring 49 points, with McSorley at the helm.

They came against some tough defenses, to boot. Georgia, 9-3 and two years away from playing in the national title game, entered its showdown with Penn State having yielded under 17 points and less than one TD pass per game. Washington's defense, for its part, was as robust as they come. The Huskies entered the Fiesta Bowl ranked No. 1 in the nation fewest yards rushing, No. 5 in total yards allowed and No. 6 in points allowed.

DAYS OF OUR LIVES

There's clearly synergy between Rahne and McSorley, who have spent 755 days together as PSU QB coach and PSU QB. And counting. (Joe & Trace had a 696-day run.)

"I'm excited. Coach Rahne is keeping us in the same mentality: Keeping a chip on our shoulder," McSorley said in the run-up to the Fiesta Bowl. "He’s kind of the coach that brought me in here when I was getting recruited.

"Having that good relationship with him, we’re going to keep doing what we do on offense. We’re definitely excited and it’s a great opportunity for him and a great opportunity for this offense."

It's quite a backstory. Rahne he heads into his full season as an O-coordinator after beginning his career as a GA to James Franklin, when CJF was the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach at Kansas State in 2006-07, when the pair tutored Josh Freeman.

Rahne identified McSorley as a quarterback prospect as far back as the fall of 2012, when McSorley was in the midst of a 55-5 run as a starter at Briar Woods High School in Ashburn, Va. Rahne was the quarterback coach at Vanderbilt, working under Franklin. McSorley drew lots of attention as a safety, not so much as a QB. Rahne thought otherwise, and was his internal champion at Vandy.

Then, after Franklin & Co. came to Penn State in January 2014, one of their first calls was to McSorley, who visited Penn State shortly after Franklin's staff was in place. He quickly changed his verbal commitment from Vanderbilt to Penn State.

In their first two seasons at Penn State (2014-15), Rahne was the quarterback coach and McSorley was Hackenberg's backup. In those two seasons, the Nittany Lions went 14-12, averaging a tick under 22 points per game.

Exit offensive coordinator John Donovan, enter Joe Moorhead. Rahne, after two seasons leading the PSU QB room, moved to coaching the tight ends as he yielded to Moorhead.

MORE WITH MOORHEAD

Rahne said it was a good move, career-wise, as Penn State averaged 37.6 and then 41 points per game over the past two years.

"I think the thing Joe did the best, and something I feel like I learned from, is his preparation in Sunday through Friday," Rahne said. "He was a great play-caller because of how he designed the plays Sunday through Friday. That’s something that’s been key and he always knew, ‘OK, these are the two things they can do to attack me, here are my adjustments to those.’

"... He had an ability to get people to like him and play for him. You guys were probably the same way. You probably loved interviewing him, he’s a great interview and I want to do the same thing in terms of our players. I need to make sure that they’re not only executing the plays, but they’re playing hard and playing through the whistle and they’re focusing on the details."

THE JAMES GANG

Continuity, consistency and familiarity had a lot to do with promoting Rahne to Penn State's offensive coordinator, quarterback coach and play-caller.

Here's how Franklin described it:

"I thought it was the right thing to do for Trace and Tommy and the rest of our quarterbacks because they are very comfortable and confident in this system right now," Franklin said. "And then also the fact that Ricky recruited every quarterback in that room. I think it just allows us to continue to keep building. It will be a process, but I'm obviously very confident or I wouldn't have done it.

"...I think a lot of it had to do with what Trace McSorley felt good about, what Tommy Stevens felt good about. Talking to the players, it's been a really smooth transition for the most part."

One game into the 2018 calendar year, with at least a dozen more to go, the numbers bear that out.



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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