Dy­namic of­fense brings Yur­cich's name to fore

Tulsa World - - Gameday - Bill Hais­ten Sports colum­nist bill.hais­ten @tul­saworld.com

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.

KEITH SRAKO­CIC/AP

Se­nior James Wash­ing­ton (left) was one of four Ok­la­homa State re­ceivers with 100 yards Satur­day at Pitts­burgh.

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