Ex­e­cu­tion key for Lions in red zone


No­body knows the sta­tis­tics bet­ter than Joe Moor­head.

No­body can rat­tle them off more read­ily than Penn State’s sec­ondyear of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor. No­body can use them to make a point more ef­fec­tively.

So, when some­one points out his Nit­tany Lions have strug­gled in short-yardage sit­u­a­tions and on those crit­i­cal plays run near­est to their op­po­nent’s end zone, Moor­head will an­swer quickly. Es­sen­tially, he’ll point out, those is­sues were limited to a few plays on a few drives on one night in Iowa against one of the Big Ten’s stingier de­fenses.

“In non-goal-line sit­u­a­tions this year on third-and-short, we’re 6-of-9 and 2-for-2 on fourth down. So, we’re 8-for-11 in short-yardage sit­u­a­tions,” he said.

And what about those red zone trou­bles for Penn State?

“Red zones right now, we’re 16-of-18 and 13-of-18 on touch­downs, which is prob­a­bly up­per mid­dle pack,” he went on.

There are is­sues with the Nit­tany Lions of­fense, and Moor­head knows them. He knows it needs to be bet­ter in the goal-line sit­u­a­tions. He knows that, for a cham­pi­onship con­tender, hov­er­ing around a 40 per­cent suc­cess rate on third- and fourth-down con­ver­sions isn’t go­ing to cut it for long. He knows most of all that 13 touch­downs on 18 trips in­side is hardly a max­i­miz­ing of his of­fense’s tal­ent.

For this of­fense to get bet­ter where it has to get bet­ter, he also knows that it doesn’t need some­thing it al­ready doesn’t have. Not a full­back. Not a quar­ter­back un­der cen­ter. Just a more phys­i­cal at­ti­tude and a com­mit­ment to re­fin­ing the de­tails of ev­ery play.

“I don’t think you can put a fin­ger on any­thing and say it’s one cer­tain thing,” Moor­head said. “But we have to do a good job mak­ing sure we’re putting them in a po­si­tion to be suc­cess­ful. And when we make a good call, go out and ex­e­cute it.”

Good calls aren’t more dif­fi­cult to make in­side the op­po­nent’s 10-yard line. But they’re more dif­fi­cult to ex­e­cute.

It’s in­ac­cu­rate to call Penn State’s dif­fi­cul­ties red zone strug­gles. On the six plays the Nit­tany Lions ran from the Iowa 11 through its 20 last week­end, they gained 25 yards.

On the seven plays they ran from the Iowa 6 to the Iowa 10, they gained 28.

That’s bet­ter than four yards per play, in both in­stances.

But that num­ber dipped dra­mat­i­cally in­side the 5. On five plays in that close-tothe-goal range, the Nit­tany Lions gained no yards and didn’t find the end zone.

Moor­head has made clear from his hir­ing that Penn State’s of­fense won’t be a tra­di­tional one as long as he’s in charge. He con­firmed there isn’t even a full­back on the ros­ter, never mind one that could go into the game on short­yardage sit­u­a­tions. He added that quar­ter­back Trace McSor­ley takes ev­ery snap in prac­tice out of the shot­gun, which makes go­ing un­der cen­ter in those crit­i­cal sit­u­a­tions seem need­lessly risky.

What Penn State has to do in­side the 5 to be more suc­cess­ful, he said, is rather sim­ple.

Be bet­ter than it has been. Ex­e­cute.

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