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Penn State Football: Why Play-caller Ricky Rahne (Probably) Won’t Read This Story

by on August 15, 2019 7:30 PM

Ricky Rahne, Penn State’s second-year play-caller, saw the good, the bad and the ugly in 2018.

And that was just on social media.

Four games in, he had seen enough. So, just four victories and an astounding 222 points into last season, he went cold turkey on the internet.

Remember, this came after the Nittany Lions scored 45 points vs. Appalachian State, then 51 against non-rival Pitt and then back-to-back 63’s against Kent State and Friday night lights foe Illinois.

That equated to 55.5-point scoring average, coming off of 27 minutes and 52 seconds of possession time — placed the Nittany Lions as the nation’s No. 1 scoring team after four games heading into their match-up against Ohio State, which at the time was No. 2 in scoring, at 54.5 ppg.

Not that Rahne read a word about it.

“I don’t read that stuff,” Rahne said two weeks ago, standing on the Beaver Stadium turf on media day, off to the side, just him and me. “Quite frankly if I wasn’t a college coach, I probably wouldn’t have social media. That’s not who I am as a person.”

Ah, but he was reading it back then. 

How could he not?

WAITING HIS TURN

Finally the team’s play-caller, offensive coordinator and QB coach after 10 seasons in three locations with James Franklin, Rahne and the Nittany Lion offense were riding high.

Rahne had waited his turn. He was with Franklin at Kansas State (2006-07; CJF was the O-coordinator and QB coach), Vanderbilt (2011-13) and Penn State (since Season One in 2014)

He saw John Donovan call plays for five seasons — three at Vandy and two at PSU. He moved aside as Penn State’s quarterback coach when Joe Moorhead came to town in 2016. He had paid his dues in the profession, which went back to his stint as assistant D-line coach to Sean Spencer at Holy Cross in 2004. That job as Chaos’ caddy came after Rahne put his Ivy League degree in a drawer, ditched the corporate world and pursued his dream of coaching football.

So, there he was in 2018, just four games into being college football’s latest hot offensive mind. Two points scored for every minute of possession. That’s when Rahne, who threw for a then-record 54 TDs and 7,710 yards as a three-year starting QB at Cornell, had seen enough. So he did what one of his famed pupils, tight end Mike Gesicki, eventually did with great success:

He tuned out the outside world. 

“I found myself reading it at one point last year — actually, when we were winning — and I felt it being counter-productive,” Rahne admits. “So that’s why I don’t read that stuff anymore. I stopped reading it after the Illinois.”

Just in time to not see how he was being pummeled after the infamous Fourth-and-5 call in the final stages of the Ohio State game, eight days after hanging 63 on the Illini. Miles Sanders got the call and ball. And Trace McSorley did not.

Penn State lost, 27-26, then scored just 17 the next week in another defeat at home against Michigan State. (Rahne’s offense had scored at least 21 points in a quarter four times leading up to the Ohio State game.)

After that Illinois pounding, Penn State won five games and lost four, as over the final nine games the offense scored more than 30 points just twice, and averaged only 24.11 points per contest.

In total, the Nittany Lions scored those 222 points in their first four games and just 217 in the final nine.

Of course, no one wants to hear about the limiting injuries that McSorley and his backup, Tommy Stevens, were fighting though. Or the drops. Or an O-line that was supposed to, again, have a breakout season.

RICKY KNOWS

And Rahne gets that. More than you know.

“I expected the praise that I got when we did well. And I expected the criticism I got when we didn’t,” he says. “That’s part of it, right? That’s part of this job at this level. Obviously, it’s a challenge. We’re playing against the best defenses in the country. The stats may indicate that we might have the best defensive conference in the country. When you’re challenged like that every week, you know what to expect.”

He also knows that his play-calling is highly scrutinized. It’s part of the price you pay for a fan base that showed up 110,889 strong for the 2018 contest with the Buckeyes. And leaves an equal amount of calls for Rahne’s head on the message boards the next day.

“I understand fans’ frustrations when we don’t win games. Because guess what? As much work as I put into it, I’m pretty frustrated as well,” Rahne says. “That’s probably what they don’t understand. Some of their frustrations that they have when we lose or don’t perform the way we need to, I have some of those frustrations when we win. I’m striving to someday play and call the perfect game. Until that happens, you’re never going to be satisfied. And even after that, you’re going to want to do it again.

“There are a lot of people who support Penn State. That’s what makes it great. Those people have the right to be as passionate as they need to be about Penn State football. That’s why people come to Penn State, to play in front of 107,000 people and get a great degree. That’s why they keep on showing up.”

FOOL’S GOLD?

Penn State opens the 2019 season with a schedule that is similar to the four-game stretch that resulted in that opening 222-point barrage in 2018. Sans App State, it may be even be easier this year, with Idaho, Buffalo, Pitt and Maryland.

Is a month of foes like that fool’s gold, I asked Rahne. He didn’t flinch.

“You can’t get caught up in it,” he answered. “You’re trying to score as many points as you can every game. But, more importantly, trying to win every game. There are points in those games, where you go, ‘I could take some risks here to generate some points, but at this point it’s better for us not to do that.’

“We’re trying to win games, and I think that’s what our staff does a really good job of — working together. There are expectations of the outside world, but we have to keep things between the white lines and focus on what we can control.

“It’s about not accepting in victory what you wouldn’t accept in defeat. If a guy runs a route short but it still works — well, you can’t accept that. If a guy is not finishing his block the way he needs to or we’re not throwing it the right guy, you can’t accept that.

“The kids have to hold themselves to a high standard. That’s the key. The balance is still doing that while still maintaining their confidence — that they’re going to play well and they are going to continue to play well. That’s the great balance of coaching.”

To that end — with a new starting quarterback and a new staring running back and an offensive line that boast just 13 career starts after Steven Gonzalez (29) and Will Fries (20) — Rahne acknowledges that the Nittany Lion offense has some work to do. But…

“We’re not trying to re-invent the wheel,” Rahne cautioned. “We’re just trying to make little tweaks that we think are really going to help us out.”

THE READ ON RAHNE

What helps maintain that equilibrium is not reading this story. Or any of them.

And, if you do, try to remember what Joe Paterno once said about reading what were called “newspaper clippings” back in the day:

“Publicity is like poison. It only hurts if you swallow it.”

All this doesn’t mean that Rahne won’t read a story about him or the Nittany Lion offense now and then. (Hi, Ricky.) But, it’s usually by happenstance, and not by design.

“Stuff comes up on your phone and you can’t help but look at it,” Rahne concedes. “Obviously, I still need to be on there for recruiting and things like that. So, there are going to be some things that flash up there every once in awhile.

“But, as a general rule, I’ve tried to stay away from it. My wife does a great job of not reading it. That’s great. And my kids aren’t at that age yet.”



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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