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Penn State Football: Four Downs With Passing Game Coordinator Josh Gattis

by on January 18, 2018 9:00 PM

UPDATE: Josh Gattis is headed to the University of Alabama as an assistant on Nick Saban's staff, to be the co-offensive coordinator on Nick Saban's staff, according to numerous reports Friday morning. Gattis' tough task, had he stayed as Penn State's passing game coordinator, was posted Thursday night at 9 p.m., and appears below:

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So, do you think David Corley — Penn State's new running backs coach — has a tough job?

After all, he's arriving on campus just as superstar Saquon Barkley departs.

Hmmm, idk.

Josh Gattis' job, numbers-wise, may be tougher:

Replacing 2,350 receiving yards to 1,326 rushing yards, to be exact.

Gattis is not only the Nittany Lions' wide receivers coach, he was also named the passing game coordinator in December.

As such, entering the 2018 season, he not only will acutely feel the departure of all-time leading wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton (53 catches for 857 yards in 2017), but also the loss of all-time top receiving tight end Mike Gesicki (57, 563), Barkley (54, 632) and wide receiver Saaed Blacknall (17, 289) as well.

All told, with the additional departures of Irv Charles and Andre Robinson, the Nittany Lions' receiving corps is losing 183 catches and 23 TD receptions, in addition to those 2,350 yards. (That's 61% of all receptions, 62% of all receiving yards and 72% of all receiving TDs.)

Beyond Gesicki and Barkley, Penn State's returning running backs and tight ends accounted for a total of 14 catches, 88 yards and one touchdown in 2017. (Barkley's heir apparent, Miles Sanders, had just six catches for 30 yards.) Total, as in combined.

Juwan Johnson is Penn State's top returning receiver, with 54 catches for 701 yards in 2017, but with only one TD — which was a biggie as the game-winner at Iowa. Fellow returning wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins added 28 catches for 443 yards and three TDs.

For his part, Corley must replace 1,326 rushing yards from the 2017 season — 1,271 by Barkley and 55 by Robinson. (That's 53% of the carries, 59% of the rushing yards and 53% of the rushing TDs.)

Here's the catch:

Gattis and Ricky Rahne, promoted to offensive coordinator with the departure of Joe Moorhead, will be doing a lot of coordinating of new moving parts.


Gattis is up to the task. He's produced the all-time leading receiver at three different schools.

This is his fifth season at Penn State and seventh overall with James Franklin. Counting a stint as wide receivers coach at Western Michigan in 2011, he's had two players catch 100 balls in a single season, and has sent a number of his players to the NFL — most recently, Nittany Lion Chris Godwin, a third-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2017 NFL Draft. (Godwin had 34 catches for 525 yards in his rookie season.)

Under Gattis at Western Michigan, wide receiver Jordan White led the NCAA with 140 receptions for 1,911 yards, setting school and Mid-American Conference records. White was a seventh-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.

Under Gattis at Vanderbilt, wide receiver Jordan Matthews was a two-time All-American. He ended his career as the Southeastern Conference's career leader in receptions (262) and receiving yards (3,759), while also owning the SEC season mark with 107 catches, set in 2013. Matthews was selected in the second round of the 2014 draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, and was with them for three seasons. He played for the Buffalo Bills in 2017, and over four seasons in the NFL Matthews has made 250 receptions for 2,955 yards, with 20 TDs.

And under Gattis at Penn State, Hamilton went through an up-down-down-way up career that saw him finish as Penn State's all-time receiving leader with 214 receptions. Hamilton ranks No. 2 in career receiving yards, with 2,842. He and Godwin rank No. 2 (82) and No. 4 (69), respectively, at Penn State for most single-season receptions.

Gattis will have a number of new wide receivers in his meeting room in 2018. Very promising wide receivers, in fact. Justin Shorter was ESPN's No. 1 high school wide receiver last season, and the top recruit from New Jersey. Johan Dotson, who had 40 TDs as a prep, was a late flip from UCLA. And track star Daniel George was the No. 8 player in Maryland.


Before the bowl game, we went four downs with Gattis, asking him about the fresh crop of receivers, his new coaching responsibilities and overall philosophy, and his future. Here's what he had to say:


"We're reloading in the wide receiver room. We've been fortunate that we've had a bunch of guys who are talented playing for us the past four years. We're starting to lose a bunch of those guys. Now, Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins and Brandon Polk are upperclassmen. We have a good mix of experienced guys who are coming back, but we need to start to get our younger guys experience for when our older guys are not there.

"We have the next group of play-makers coming in to help make our success sustainable. That's a thing we do well; we distribute the ball. If you're a wide receiver, you have to be excited about what we do offensively. A lot of people are going to be excited about who address those needs with."


"We do a great job as an offensive staff having input each week. Coach Moorhead did an unbelievable job in allowing us to have input. Each week what you saw as the Penn State Offense. It wasn't the Joe Moorhead Offense. It won't be Ricky Rahne's offense; it will be the Penn State offense. As an offensive staff, we had a ton of input, even though there is one play-caller.

"Ricky is going to keep it consistent. He's done a really great job so far. We're really excited about him. It's really an opportunity for us to put our name on the offense. This offense belongs to the 11 men who gout there and play every Saturday for us. That was the exciting thing that happen. Coach Moorhead deserved the opportunity, but more than anything those young men who went out there on Saturdays got that opportunity for him. That's the message I relayed to a lot of those guys — the DaeSean Hamiltons, the Saquon Barkleys, the Mike Gesicki making plays — none of these opportunities can happen without then.

"This offense will remain the same as long as we continue to have the same players."


"Attention to detail and technique, with a focus on the fundamentals, then pushing them. My guys will tell you that there's not anything they get away with. Every detail — from run blocking to running off the cornerback to footwork— we're very detailed with those guys. It's my job to maximize those guys.

"I've been blessed with really good receivers. It's the work ethic and consistency, and attention to detail and focus to detail, that allows those guys to have the success. No. 1 is helping guys maximize their ability.

"I'm very confident. I take great pride in what they do. That's why I am on them so hard, because as a coach I cannot allow them to have a bad day or a bad practice. We take pride in developing those guys. I've been fortunate enough to build the mindset in those guys that they want to be the best and I want them to be at their best. I want those guys to accomplish their goals, as much as I want to accomplish my goals. My goal is to have the best wide receiving corps in the nation every year. No matter what hand I'm dealt, I truly believe that with the techniques and fundamentals and mindset I teach, we can go out there and get the job done.

"One of the things we do a really good job of is on communication. We give constant communication and feedback on things they need to work on to ensure that we turn the negatives into the positives and they are resharpening so that continue to play at a high level."


"I think everybody wants to be in a position where they can run their own deal as far as being coordinator. I'm happy where I am. I take great pride in developing wide receivers. When the time comes, I'll be prepared for that opportunity.

"We take great pride in what we do offensively. That's the neat thing about what we do. We have so many different elements to our offense that able to make an impact each and every single day. Of course, our No. 1 goal is to win, be part of a winning program and a winning culture. That's what is ultimately going to create success for yourself."

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