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Penn State Football: Efficiency Key As Moorhead Takes Over Of Offense

by on December 18, 2015 4:00 PM

At the end of the day football is not terribly complicated. Sure the schemes and the techniques take years to fully grasp and understand. There's no question that it's far from truly "simple."

But it really comes down to one thing, scoring points. It's not revolutionary insight, it's just the truth.

So as Joe Moorhead takes over as Penn State's offensive coordinator he'll be tasked with doing that. Getting Penn State's offense down the field and on the scoreboard and doing it frequently. The Nittany Lions scored touchdowns in the redzone just 55% of the time nearly 20% worse than opponents.

"A successful offense is one that is able to put points on the board," Moorhead said earlier this week. "And to be able to do that you have to be able to move the football with balance between the run game and the pass game. Usually, offenses that are successful are also able to make explosive plays and limit the number of turnover. You have to be able to convert on third down and extend drives, and then you have to be able to score touchdowns in the red zone."

"I think that is something my offenses have been able to do during my time as an offensive coordinator and the tempo that play is going to be what you would call up-tempo or fast paced, but we want to play with different kinds of tempo. It will be about getting into the right play, as opposed to running the wrong play quickly. We can run as fast as we need to, but we are going to make sure we are in the best play in to align with the defense that we are presented."

Again, "we would like to score points" isn't going to change the face of the sport, but it's still true.

Gauging an offense's efficiency depends largely on the metrics you want to use. Points alone are nice but not always helpful. Yards are good but don't always end in points. Even time of possession becomes and overrated stat if an offensive is truly moving quickly. The Philadelphia Eagles at their height under Chip Kelly rarely owned time of possession but frequently outscored their opponents.

Even Moorhead's own claim to running an up-tempo offense is slightly off base. Fordham over the past three years has only averaged 3.13 more plays per game than Penn State. Only once in the past four years would have seen Fordham in the Top 50 of all FBS teams in plays per game. Moorhead might be playing quickly, but even in 2015 Penn State had five games of 70+ plays while Fordham broke the 70-play mark on three occasions.

That stat only tells part of the story, plays aren't indicative of efficiency. Penn State went 2-3 in games of 70+ plays while Fordham went 2-1. Apples and oranges perhaps but numbers extended to their fullest.

It's another stat though that shows the scoring potential of Moorhead's offense. Over the past two years Fordham has averaged a touchdown once every 14.6 plays and once every 97.5 yards of offense while only averaging 3.5 more plays a game.

Over that same span Penn State has averaged a touchdown once every 29 plays and once every 146 yards of offense.

On some level that degree of efficiency will probably be impossible to repeat in the Big Ten. Teams are simply better, no scheme is going to exploit Ohio State or Michigan State to the extent that anyone will score at will.

But explosive plays, chunk plays and aggressive tactics might help Penn State's offense go from stale and predictable to at least marginally exciting and creative enough to give a growing program a chance.

"We want the trademarks of our offense to be: dictate the tempo, be aggressive and attacking, we want to control the running game and make explosive plays in the passing game. We want to do that, while being successful on third down, not turning the ball over and scoring touchdowns in the red zone." Moorhead said.

Will it work? Only time will tell, but for the past few years Moorhead has been getting the most out of what he has and at a higher rate. Even if Penn State doesn't turn into Oregon East in the span of a year, an improvement over the past few seasons might be all the program needs to start to turn the corner.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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