The Impact of Joe Moorhead’s Departure

Story posted December 21, 2017 in Sports, CommRadio by Patrick Murphy

Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead will not be around to coach in the Fiesta Bowl after being hired as the new head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Though many fans and players held out silent hope that Moorhead would stick around, his departure should come as a surprise to nobody after the impressive resume he built in his brief stay at Penn State. Last year in his first season as Penn State’s offensive coordinator, Moorhead’s offense broke Penn State single-season records for total offense and passing yards, while also tying the record for points scored. This performance had Moorhead atop numerous lists of schools monitoring the possibility of a coaching change heading into this season. 

Moorhead brought Penn State a high-octane offense and transformed it from one that barely scored in the top 100 the year prior, to a top 10 scoring team. Penn State assembled the perfect offensive cast to execute Moorhead’s run-pass-option style offense to its fullest potential, and his presence will surely be missed. After the drastic improvements seen in Moorhead’s first season, the further progress his offense made this year appeared even more impressive. As a result, his departure had become a foregone conclusion to most people.

In Starkville, Moorhead will inherit a solid team that could return up to 20 starters next year. Mississippi State was a constant fixture in the top-25 rankings this season and will head into the Taxslayer Bowl against Louisville as the No. 23 ranked team in the country. With injured star quarterback Nick Fitzgerald among the returnees next year, the Bulldogs already look like they could be a force in the SEC. The task will be to improve an already solid foundation, in contrast to Moorhead’s turn-around job in his other head coaching stint at Fordham.

Former Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen left the program after nine seasons to fill the vacancy at Florida following Jim McElwain’s foreseeable firing. Mullen was the offensive coordinator at Florida, where he won two national championships under Urban Meyer before accepting the job at Mississippi State.

There are a few similarities between Mullen and Moorhead that should allow a seamless transition to the program. Moorhead and Mullen are both offensive-minded coaches who incorporate several RPO concepts as the centerpieces of their schemes. Moorhead’s offense at Penn State was equally reliant on the run and pass game while Mullen’s offense was slightly more structured on the ground attack. However, these differences likely had a lot to do with the differences in quarterback personnel as well as offensive line stability. When Moorhead arrives many Mississippi State fans will certainly be interested to see if he can transform Mississippi State into a more prolific passing team, or whether he continues many of the same concepts as his predecessor.

As far as Penn State goes, Moorhead leaving shouldn’t change much about the way the offense looks. Passing game coordinator Ricky Rahne has been promoted to fill the void Moorhead’s departure left. The decision to promote from within likely means that the program is happy with their current offensive system and won’t want to change much despite losing Moorhead. With Trace McSorley returning, and the overwhelming likelihood of Saquon Barkley leaving, Rahne has a heavy incentive to keep the high-octane passing game at the forefront of his offensive scheme.

Patrick Murphy is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email pqm5315@psu.edu.