August 29, 2016

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Two seasons of ugly offense at Penn State had head coach James Franklin and the Nittany Lions in need of more than just a change of scheme.

The first job facing new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead was bringing some positive vibes to Happy Valley.

''He brings a ton of energy to this offense. That was something I think that kind of revitalized our offense,'' quarterback Trace McSorley said.

Penn State unveils its new spread offense Saturday against Kent State. After the Nittany Lions finished 7-6 and ranked 13th in the Big Ten in total offense in each of Franklin's first two seasons, Penn State fans are not likely to have much patience for growing pains.

Moorhead's ability to deliver an offense that can help the Nittany Lions close the gap on Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State in the Big Ten East will likely play a huge part in determining Franklin's future at Penn State.

Moorhead, the former FCS head coach at Fordham and offensive coordinator at UConn, seems keenly aware of the enormity of his task and not at all overwhelmed by it.

''I've called plays in double overtime to beat Notre Dame,'' he said. ''(But) you really understand the situation you're getting into when you become a Big Ten offensive coordinator, particularly taking over an offense that has struggled a little bit.

''I do understand the ramifications and the immediacy to produce results not just at this level but at this time in history for this program.''

The last four seasons at Fordham, Moorhead went 38-13 with three playoff appearances and the most prolific offenses in his alma mater's history. Before that, he worked under Randy Edsall at Connecticut, where his offenses were more traditional and pro-style. The way his former boss preferred.

The 42-year-old Moorhead first landed on Franklin's radar a couple years ago at a coaching clinic in his native Pittsburgh.

''He gets up there and not only do I enjoy his presentation and do we align when it comes to concepts, when it comes to spacing, when it comes to West Coast philosophies in the passing game, but also a lot of the things that he's saying and how he's articulating the message and the passion that he has for it and the energy that he has for it and the confidence that he has in it,'' Franklin said. ''Right away, I kind of wrote him down.''

Franklin dismisses the idea this up-tempo offense that will feature mobile quarterbacks is what he wanted but could not have when Christian Hackenberg, a second-round draft choice by the Jets, was the quarterback at Penn State the last two seasons. Franklin points to his background as an assistant coach with the Green Bay Packers and his stints at Kansas State and Maryland as proof he can work well with drop-back passers.

Still, the roster Franklin has built while being handcuffed by NCAA scholarship sanctions dropped on Penn State after the Jerry Sandusky scandal suggests a more new-school approach.

''I think what it really came down to was embracing the direction of where football is going right now. The speed of the game. The style of the game. The excitement of the game. The entertainment aspect of the game,'' Franklin said. ''And then I think more so than anything else it is based on our personnel right now.''

With scholarship limits gone, an offensive line that struggled mightily to protect Hackenberg at least now has major-college football depth. There is skill position talent. Especially Saquon Barkley, who ran for 1,076 yards as a freshman last season.

The new offense is simplified without being simple. Long play calls are out, replaced by hand signals and a word or two at the line of scrimmage. The offensive line is asked to do less problem solving. Moorhead has not only gotten rid of huddles, he has banned the word.

''He'll always yell sideline congregation,'' McSorley said.

Penn State will play up-tempo, but don't expect Oregon-level blur.

''We are not a tempo team that runs plays for the sake of running them,'' Moorhead said. ''We utilize four different tempos. It's not about running the wrong play quickly. It's about running the right play against the look that we are presented as quickly as we can.''

Getting it right as quickly as possible is also the best way to describe what's expected of Moorhead this season.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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