Dynamic offense brings Yurcich's name to fore
PITTSBURGH — Before Saturday, when he and Mason Rudolph mauled the Pittsburgh Panthers with big plays, Mike Yurcich hadn't coached in a football game played on Pennsylvania soil since Nov. 17, 2012.
That day, in an NCAA Division II playoff game conducted before a crowd of 6,165 at Shippensburg State's Seth Grove Stadium, Yurcich drove the Raider offense to 673 total yards and a 58-20 conquest of Bloomsburg State. Exactly one person in Oklahoma noticed what Yurcich had done in two seasons as the Shippensburg State offensive
coordinator. That person was Mike Gundy, who in February 2013 hired Yurcich to coordinate the Oklahoma State offense and coach Cowboys quarterbacks.
Yurcich's arrival in Stillwater coincided with unfortunate circumstances. For three seasons, OSU lacked impact running backs and a consistently effective offensive line. In 2013 and 2014, injuries resulted in instability at the quarterback position.
The 2014 offense was terrible and Yurcich was blamed for everything. Blasted incessantly on social media. “Fire Mike Yurcich” tweets were common.
Before the kickoff of Saturday's Oklahoma State-Pittsburgh game, Panthers fans were energized by perfect weather, by the presence of former Pitt superstars Tony Dorsett and Hugh Green, and by the possibility of a nationally relevant upset.
By halftime, many of those same fans had seen enough. They were gone.
During the first half, as the ninth-ranked Cowboys totaled 516 yards, converted on nine consecutive third-down plays and ended each of their seven possessions with a touchdown, there was this statement from a media member in the Heinz Field press box: “Mike Yurcich will be a head coach next year.”
Following a 59-21 OSU victory, a second voice — Gundy's voice — essentially expressed the same opinion.
“I brought him here to hide him for a few years,” Gundy said of Yurcich. “It ended up being a good decision. I don't know that I'll be able to hide him much longer. He's pretty dang good at what he does.”
Calling Yurcich “a good candidate” for a head-coaching position, Gundy said his coordinator is on the Dana Holgorsen-Todd Monken level of offensive coaching talent.
Holgorsen was Gundy's offensive coordinator in 2010 and now is West Virginia's seventh-year head coach. Monken coordinated at OSU in 2011-12. He was the Southern Miss head man for three seasons and now is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive coordinator.
The 41-year-old Yurcich hails from Euclid, Ohio, and coached at Shippensburg, located 170 miles east of Pittsburgh. More than 20 of his family members and friends were at Heinz Field on Saturday, but Yurcich swore the Pittsburgh game was no more personally significant than any other.
“We always want to win,” he explained. “You've always got to have consistency. If something changes, you're going to perform differently.”
While some OSU fans griped about the coordinator hire in 2013, Yurcich ignored the chatter and focused on the evaluation and recruiting of a high school quarterback from South Carolina.
Yurcich is being paid $600,000 this season. He should get a $600,000 bonus for having signed Mason Rudolph and developed the senior QB into a Heisman Trophy candidate.
In only 8½ quarters of playing time this season, Rudolph has passed for 1,135 yards and 11 touchdowns and completed 72 percent of his attempts.
This statistic would support anyone's contention Yurcich and Rudolph have at their disposal more weaponry than any other coordinator in college football: James Washington entered the season as perhaps the No. 1 contender for the Biletnikoff Award, given each year to the top wide receiver in the nation. When he got his first catch on Saturday, OSU already had a 35-0 lead.
By game's end, Washington was one of four Cowboys with at least 100 receiving yards.
“It's obvious that we spread the ball out and you never know who's going to get it,' Yurcich said. “We don't force it. The quarterback makes good decisions. We don't predetermine who the ball is going to.”
Against a Pittsburgh program only five games removed from having beaten Clemson, OSU finished with 676 total yards.
If Gundy had played his starters for four quarters, OSU might have scored a hundred points. Not since the Cowboys' 2011 obliteration of Texas Tech — a 66-6 blowout of the Red Raiders — has a Cowboys offense been this explosive and efficient in a road game.
Gundy knows to savor what he has: an elite quarterback, a tremendous collection of skill-position players and a coordinator whose clever play-calling has resulted in a three-game total of 18 offensive touchdowns.
Rudolph and Washington are seniors. They'll be on NFL rosters next year. Yurcich also might be on a different roster, and he might be at the very top of it.
Senior James Washington (left) was one of four Oklahoma State receivers with 100 yards Saturday at Pittsburgh.