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Penn State Football: Why New D-coordinator Brent Pry Likes Joe Moorhead’s Offense

by on February 18, 2016 10:25 PM

Count Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry among the fans of his new offensive counterpart, Joe Moorhead.

Pry, promoted from co-coordinator after the January departure of Bob Shoop to Tennessee, is upbeat about Moorhead’s up-tempo, spread offense.

“In our room, defensively, there’s been an excitement,” Pry said earlier this week when he was on Jerry Fisher’s “Zone Coverage” radio show.

On that program, Pry was complimentary when I asked him if the new offense Moorhead is installing will be complementary with Pry’s young defense.

“The excitement is because a lot of what coach Moorhead is bringing with this offense is what we already see” in the Big Ten, said Pry. “It’s going to give us an opportunity to work against it a little bit more than in the past. It will give us a chance to put some of our ideas to the test.

“When you see that offense every day in practice you can work through some things. You don’t need a ballgame to figure out what you want to do and can do well.”


Pry noted that his defense’s practice sessions will help prepare for the explosive, more-wide open offensive attacks of annual Big Ten East opponents like Indiana, Ohio State and Maryland. Indiana had league-highs of 81 plays, 26 first downs and 36.5 points per game, while averaging 6.2 yards per play, in 2015. Ohio State averaged a Big Ten-best 6.3 yards per play to go with its 69 plays and 21.5 first downs per game.

Comparatively, in 2015 Penn State’s scatter-shod offense was 11th in points (23.2), last in first downs (16.5), 13th in yards per game (348) and seventh in yards per play (5.5).

Not that Pry and his Nittany Lion defense will be going up against solely spread offenses. Michigan State’s is anything but, while Michigan loves its tight end and ranked first in the conference in ball-control passing percentage (62.2%). Penn State ranked 12th, at 53.3%.

In his four seasons at Fordham, Moorhead’s teams went 38-13 while completing 1,249 of 1,865 passes – that’s just a tick above connecting on two out of every three passes (66.97%). By season, Rams’ passers had completion rates of 65.4% (2012), 70.6% (2013), 64.8% (2014) and 66.3% (2015).

Pry likes the idea of getting work in against an aggressive and cohesive precision-passing attack. But he also knows he’ll face a variety of offenses as the defensive signal-caller.

“The Big Ten’s very tough. It’s very challenging,” he said. “We’ve been watching cut-ups (of opponents’ plays on video) the past few weeks. The league has such a diverse array of offenses. You watch what Michigan State does – we’re watching two and three backs in the backfield and all this misdirection. Then you put on Ohio State and it’s spread and there’s more speed than some NFL teams maybe. It’s very challenging the wide variety of offenses that you see in the Big Ten.”

But let’s be real here, too:

What Pry may really like best about Moorhead’s offense is that it puts points on the board -- something that hasn’t been the case the past two seasons in Happy Valley. Under Moorhead, Fordham averaged 36.5 points per game over the past four seasons – with a high of 40.6 in 2014. Under head coach James Franklin and the departed John Donovan, Penn State averaged 20.6 points in 2014 and the aforementioned 23.2 in 2015.


There is a downside to being the complement of an up-tempo offense. That offense can quickly go three-and-out in seconds, not minutes, and force the defense back on the field. That happens enough, and depth and stamina can become issues. Not that the Penn State defense wasn’t accustomed to such situations in 2015. The Nittany Lion offense ranked last in the conference in third-down conversions, making a first-down just 27.6% of the time. That wears on a defense, especially one that may be young and/or not deep.

Pry doesn’t see depth as a problem in 2016.

“I’m very excited about the defensive roster,” he said. “We’re going to be a little young, but we have more talent up and down that side of the football than what I think we had (the past two years). We’ve had some marquee guys in spots, but we haven’t had the depth across the board we’ll have moving forward.”

As Penn State’s co-defensive coordinator the past two seasons, Pry had a good deal of input when game-planning with Shoop. He expects to change a few things up with the addition of Tim Banks as the Nittany Lions’ safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator.

“I think you have in your mind what you’d like to do from a schematic standpoint and structure, and that’s not going to change a whole lot,” said Pry. “We’ll tweak it and there are subtle things I have a perspective on and coach Banks may have a new perspective on.

“You have to find out who you are. That’s part of the winter, that’s part of the spring and preseason camp. You have to find out where your strengths are. Last year we were able to rush four quite a bit. Will we be able to do that this year? I can’t answer that right now. We have a lot of reps between now and then to figure that out. How good of a man coverage team are we? That’s going to be important. How intelligent of a football team are we going to be? We are going to be very young – so how much are we able to do?”

Don’t expect Pry, in his 25th season as a college football coach and 12th as a coordinator (at Penn State, Vanderbilt, Georgia Southern and Louisiana-Lafayette), to go all exotic on his defensive calls.

“We want to be sound,” he said. “We’re not in there trying to draw up every defense in America. We want to put up a good defense out there.”


Pry, who worked the sidelines while Shoop was in the coaches booth in the press box during their five years together at Vandy and Penn State, will call the defenses from the Nittany Lion sidelines during games. Defensive line coach Sean Spencer will also stay on the sidelines, meaning that Banks and/or cornerbacks coach Terry Smith will be up in the coaches box.

“I’ll be on the sideline. I’ve always coordinated for the sidelines,” Pry said. “To be honest, I think that’s one of my strengths. I don’t want to lose that. I love being with those guys. I think the temperament and the mentality and the approach to things on the sidelines is very important.

“As long as you have a quality guy in the box who can see things and do things, it’s been successful for a lot of guys I know who have coordinated from the sidelines.”

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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