Penn State coach James Franklin conducted his 2020 season-wrap press conference Monday, during which he discussed new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, how the offense might refresh some familiar traits and what's next for recruiting.
"This is going to be a critical offseason for us in all three phases," Franklin said, referring ways he plans to address offense, defense and special teams.
Here are some of the top takeaways from Franklin's session.
Why change offensive coordinators now?
Penn State announced Jan. 8 that Franklin had replaced coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca after one season, hiring Yurcich from Texas. Franklin said the move came about quickly (and more quietly than he anticipated) after Texas made a head-coaching change.
Yurcich, who worked at Ohio State and Oklahoma State prior to Texas, is a coach with whom Franklin has talked "for a long time." Yurcich wasn't available last year. Now that he was, Franklin quickly made the decision to pursue him.
"At the end of the day it was a tough decision, but philosophically I felt like it was the right thing for us to do and play a style of offense that I think is going to be important for us to play," Franklin said.
Describing that style of offense
Franklin mentioned three particular offensive traits he's looking to restore: making explosive plays, scoring points and limiting turnovers.
Penn State ranked 12th in the Big Ten in turnover margin (minus-8) and total turnovers (17) last season. Though the Lions led the Big Ten in passing plays of 10+ yards (95), Franklin said he's looking for more of the explosive plays that characterized former offenses, notably those of Joe Moorhead in 2016-17.
"It's going to be back to who we were the previous three or four years," Franklin said. "It's going to be spread, it's going to be tempo, there's going to be an emphasis on explosive plays. Obviously we're still working through all those types of things, but me and Mike have been talking for a long time, and we're on the same page in what we want to do and how we want to do it. And Mike has lived in that world."
Two important statistics regarding Yurcich
Since 2013, his first season as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, Yurcich's offenses have score 40 or more points in 51 games, half of those he has coached.
Further, Yurcich's offenses since 2013 have averaged 6.49 yards per play, which Penn State said ranked first among coordinators in that span.
Those resonated with Franklin.
"The things that excite me are the stats that I threw out: You'd better be able to protect the football, and then you'd better be able to create explosive plays," Franklin said. "Those are two areas that we were not as successful at this past season. And obviously his yards per play and his scoring [average]. There hasn't been too many offensive coordinators who have been able to do that."
What about spring practice?
Players are returning to campus to begin winter workouts, and Franklin said he has mapped the team's schedule through training camp. But he's still unsure whether spring practice will occur.
Penn State did not conduct spring drills in 2020, which obviously impacted the team's ability to install its new offense. Franklin said he is planning for spring drills, though they have not yet been approved.
"Nobody has come out and said it either way [regarding spring drills]," Franklin said. "And I guess what I'm saying is, what 2020 has taught me, and I think it's taught us all, is that you have to be prepared for what comes, especially when you're dealing with a pandemic. Obviously after going through a season, it's easier to say that we can pull off a spring ball and do it the right way. ... So right now, we are planned from today moving to training camp as we normally would, until someone tells us differently."
On the recruiting trail
With two weeks to recruit before Signing Day, Penn State continues to build the Class of 2021, which had several members enroll this week. In particular, Franklin said that Penn State is pursuing players at defensive end and in the secondary to help fill gaps.
Further, Franklin said that he is considering transfer options at all positions, including quarterback. Penn State already has brought in four transfers in the 2021 class.
"We're going to be as aggressive as we have to be at every position to help our football program," Franklin said, "and if there's something that makes sense and clearly makes us better, then we're going to look at it."