Moorhead overseeing No. 20 Penn State's offensive resurgence
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Accompanied by his platoon of quarterbacks, Joe Moorhead takes the same walk about an hour before every game.
The Penn State offensive coordinator moves from goal line to goal line, gripping his play sheet as signal-callers huddle around him. They'll stop every 10 yards or so for Moorhead deliver instructions and contemplate scenarios.
Moorhead's methodical approach has paid off for the No. 20 Nittany Lions (6-2, 4-2 Big Ten, No. 12 CFP). They've experienced an offensive resurgence in his first season and take a four-game winning streak into their game against Iowa (5-3, 3-2) on Saturday.
''I'd say I'm pleased but not satisfied,'' Moorhead said Thursday. ''I think we've certainly come close to meeting our expectations in some categories and fell short in a few others.''
They haven't come up short lately, however.
Practices are crisp, confidence is high and Moorhead's offense looks nothing like the units that sputtered the last two seasons. It barely resembles the gun-shy group that was knocked around by an older, superior Michigan defense at the Big House just weeks ago.
''I think we're learning just as much from the games that we win as the games that we lose,'' McSorley said.
But that hasn't happened since the debacle at the Big House and slow starts and turnovers are things of the past. The Nittany Lions are averaging 107 more yards and just over nine more points per game over their last four since that demoralizing defeat in Ann Arbor prompted McSorley to label the effort ''embarrassing.''
Big point totals are Moorhead's end goal and he's fixated on two strategies to score them. When drawing up a game plan, the former Fordham head coach aims to limit turnovers and execute explosive plays. He said Penn State practices ball security than ''any other team I've been a part of'' and it's working. Penn State is plus-5 in turnover differential over its last four games after going minus-4 in the first third of the season.
''I think it's the kids getting settled in and understanding what we're doing and why as it pertains to doing it in the game,'' Moorhead said. ''There's things within our offensive system that we didn't quit doing, but we emphasized other things.''
The main shift? Moorhead's effort to involve McSorley more in the running game, hoping to juice bigger runs out of star running back Saquon Barkley.
As the shifty quarterback has created space for himself and kept downfield passing plays alive with his feet, opponents wary of the team's vertical passing game have had to back off the line of scrimmage. It's opened up room for Barkley to rack up 638 total yards and four touchdowns during the winning streak. In that span Penn State has pulled to second in the Big Ten and 13th in the country with 51 plays of 20-plus yards, 33 of them coming via McSorley's arm.
The offense's big-play ability has masked some of its deficiencies.
Penn State is converting just 25 percent of its third downs which is worst in the nation and McSorley's completion percentage of 55 percent is 10 points lower than what Moorhead would like to see. But he sees progress even in those numbers.
McSorley took 11 sacks over the first four games and just five since and as his completion percentages have taken hits, he's avoided them.
''Part of avoiding the sacks is Trace making great decisions when nothing's there to throw the ball away,'' Moorhead said. ''There are very rarely times when we come in and look at the film and say he mis-diagnosed the coverage or misread a read and threw it to the wrong person.''