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Penn State Football: Moorhead Talks Final Few Drives Following Loss

by on January 03, 2017 2:50 AM

PASADENA, Calif. -- Sitting on a short folding chair in the middle of the Penn State locker room, offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead is by himself after the horde of reporters finally leave. He fiddles with his trademark visor, lifting it from his head to fix his hair, but it serves no real purpose.

Coaching is, in its most basic form, a high-stakes game of "what if?" You plan, you prepare, you execute and if doesn't work, you wonder.

In a game where Penn State scored 49 points, generated 465 yards of offense and scored touchdowns on seven straight drives, it's hard to point the finger at Moorhead when it comes to the Nittany Lions' heartbreaking loss to USC on Monday night.

Ultimately the finger can't really be pointed at any one player or coach. Penn State suffered defensively following the loss of Brandon Bell. Trace McSorley made a handful of critical errors. USC also appears to have an NFL star in the making in quarterback Sam Darnold. Sometimes a team just loses because somebody had to, not because of any one major flaw or obvious and correctable error. If any game was proof of football being a game won and lost in multiple areas, it was this one.

But Moorhead is human and for all the explosive plays and long gains, Penn State's final four drives chewed just over six minutes off the clock but gained a total of just 14 yards. The Nittany Lions entered the fourth quarter up double digits but playing in a game where that was seemingly irrelevant as the teams traded scores. Moorhead had to find a way to balance clock and game management with the aggression that had worked so well.

And so he sits and he thinks. About all of it.

"It's just, it's an emotional rollercoaster just kind of like the game," Moorhead said, again fixing his visor. "There are peaks and valleys, highs and lows and it hurts because you invest so much into it and worst of all I feel bad for the players and the kids because they invested so much in this season and this game. These fifth year seniors and being able to send them out the right way."

It's difficult to even really blame Moorhead for the results of those final few drives. Failed passes would have done little to help Penn State's clock management goals and short runs would in the very least let the clock slowly wind down. It's the pinnacle of lose-lose, that the only right thing is the one that works, but you don't know what that is until you try. Moorhead looks like a genius if an aggressive closing quarter wins the game and he looks foolish if he goes against the conventional wisdom of running the ball late in games.

After a loss though, knowing you did the right thing doesn't feel much better.

"It's easy to sit here as a coach you always feel like you can do a better job making sure you call a play that puts the team in a position to be successful," Moorhead added. "The second to last drive you're trying to run the ball, trying to run the clock out and third down they called a blitz and it was a good call by him because we didn't have somebody to block that guy off the edge. Tip your cap to him because he made a good call.

"And the last drive we ran a run play to start it, get it going, call a play for (Mike Gesicki) we had him open and tried to be aggressive on the last one and put ourselves in a position to kick a field goal or score a touchdown."

But if nothing else Moorhead can find a little bit of solace in the fact the Nittany Lions went out playing like they had all year. In a bowl season plagued with teams failing to find their regular season form, Penn State lost in a game that was the best representation of the kind of team it was this season. No identity crisis, no missing offense, just a loss because your best punch wasn't quite good enough. A bit easier pill to swallow.

Though like his players and fellow coaches, it might be a while before Moorhead enjoys that small but meaningful victory.

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