Ricky Rahne, Penn State’s new offensive coordinator, finds himself in an undeniably difficult spot — filling the shoes of Joe Moorhead, arguably the most innovative mind in college football.
A year before Moorhead showed up, the Nittany Lions averaged 23.2 points per game — 100th nationally behind the likes of Old Dominion, Akron, South Alabama and, yes, Rutgers. But the new Mississippi State head coach gave an anemic offense life with direct snaps, two-quarterback packages, a penchant for the long ball and truly unbelievable second-half comebacks.
In other words, while Moorhead moves on to Starkville, back in Happy Valley, Rahne has a tall task as a first-time full-time play-caller.
But by virtue of his promotion, Penn State head coach James Franklin has expressed confidence in Rahne’s ability to not only continue what Moorhead did, but also build off it. Franklin has rewarded the “fiercely loyal” Rahne — and Nittany Lion fans should give him that chance, too.
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Now, is Rahne the splashy hire? Is he someone that will bring the level of intrigue and interest that Moorhead did? No, not necessarily. He is simply sliding up the totem pole.
But for anyone who might say “meh” to the idea of Rahne taking over in Moorhead’s absence, here’s a question to consider: What has he done to merit any distaste?
Sure, Rahne was Penn State’s quarterbacks coach as Christian Hackenberg struggled behind a depth-stricken offensive line, and so fans might lump him in with the clumsiness that was John Donovan’s stint as offensive coordinator.
However, the offensive struggles in 2014 and 2015 weren’t on Rahne. And for that matter, his play-calling in the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl — after Donovan was fired — shouldn’t be overly dissected, either. At that point in the season, it’s not as if Rahne would implement his own scheme or vision. He was using Donovan’s template to just finish out the year.
But the fact that he had that play-calling experience at all is encouraging. The fact that he dialed up plays in the Blue-White Game each of the past two years is encouraging. The fact that he soaked up everything and anything he could from Moorhead should be music to Penn State fans’ ears.
You want a guy to keep the Moorhead train moving? You want someone to keep scoring 40-plus points per game? Well, without presenting the program its third playbook in four years, this is the way to do it.
Rahne said back in August that he wanted to become an offensive coordinator someday, and in the same breath, he called himself “one of the luckiest guys in the world” to be Moorhead’s colleague.
“The one thing underestimated is (Moorhead’s) ability to get the players to play hard for him and believe in him and our system,” Rahne said on Oct. 19, two days before the Nittany Lions hung 42 points on Michigan. “I think we as a staff do a great job of designing plays, making adjustments. None of that matters if the kids don’t believe. He does a great job of motivating our team, and I’ve learned that from him.”
It shows, too.
Senior tight end Mike Gesicki “can’t say enough about him.”
“Even in the meeting rooms, we’re joking around with him, and we all have a great relationship,” Gesicki said, referring to Rahne in August. “It’s fun to come out here and play for a guy like that. You’re coming in and you trust everything he’s saying. You don’t second-guess him.”
And neither should Penn State fans. At least, not until he is given the opportunity to call plays and run the offense to his liking.
Franklin could’ve gone out and plucked the next up-and-coming offensive coordinator. Fordham head coach and Moorhead apprentice Andrew Breiner was a realistic option. So was Arizona State offensive coordinator Billy Napier.
But even with interest surrounding the coveted coordinator job, indicative of how far Penn State football has come in recent years, Franklin chose Rahne.
The head coach’s internal promotions have worked in the past. Look no further than Broyles Award candidate and defensive coordinator Brent Pry filling in for the departed Bob Shoop.
History has shown that Franklin knows what he’s doing. He believes Rahne does, too.