Back by overwhelming demand, FootballScoop will once again examine the assistant coaching hires that will have the biggest impact on the college football season and the coaching job market in the 2020 season and beyond.
No. 20: Zach Arnett, Mississippi State
No. 19: Larry Fedora, Baylor
No. 18: Justin Hamilton, Virginia Tech
No. 17: Sean Gleeson, Rutgers
No. 16: Adam Fuller, Florida State
No. 15: Matt Lubick, Nebraska
No. 14: Mike Bobo, South Carolina
No. 13: Rhett Lashlee, Miami
No. 12: Marvin Lewis and Antonio Pierce, Arizona State
No. 11: David Ballou and Matt Rhea, Alabama
No. 10: Scott Cochran, Georgia
No. 9: DJ Durkin, Ole Miss
Who: Joe Moorhead, Oregon
Title: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
Previous stop: Mississippi State head coach (2018-19)
Why he’s important: Following a season in which Oregon won the Rose Bowl for just the fourth time in program history, the general consensus around the program is that the Ducks will enter 2020 as the favorites to win the Pac-12, but as a different type of Oregon team than we’re accustomed. As
Says 247Sports: “The defense will be the best in the Pac-12, and in the end that will carry the Ducks to a championship.”
Writes Athlon: “Oregon is known for its high-powered offenses, but the defense is the strength of this program for 2020.”
That consensus is well-grounded, of course. Oregon returns eight or nine starters (depending on how you count them up) from a defense that rated in the top 12 nationally in yards per play and scoring defense.
Franchise quarterback Justin Herbert is gone, as are four starting linemen. And even though returning left tackle Penei Sewell — the first sophomore to ever win the Outland Trophy — may be the best player in college football, he can’t block an entire defensive front by himself.
All of this is true.
But how good can Oregon be if exceeds expectations in Year 1?
Remember, this is the same guy who jumped Penn State from 78th to 21st in yards per play his 2016 debut as the Nittany Lions’ offensive coordinator, from 100th to 21st in scoring offense, from 106th to 66th in rushing offense, and from 78th to 14th in passing efficiency. (Penn State’s win total also exploded, from seven to 11.)
That explosion came with Trace McSorley at the helm, a true sophomore and first-year starter who stepped in for multi-year starter Christian Hackenberg. Listed at 6-foot-even and 202 pounds, McSorley was hardly a picture-perfect example of the type of prospect NFL scouts fall asleep fawning over, but he was perfect for Moorhead’s offense. He threw for 3,614 yards and 29 scores while running for seven more on the ground (a guy named Saquon Barkley handled most of the load there).
Moorhead will have a couple of options in his search for a green-and-yellow version of McSorley. Sophomore Tyler Shough is the in-house heir apparent, having appeared in five games and completed 12-of-15 passes for 144 yards and three scores in backing up Herbert last season, but Anthony Brown arrives as a graduate transfer after averaging 9.1 yards per attempt with a 9-to-2 TD-to-INT ratio for Boston College last season.
“I think the amount of times we ran Trace (McSorely) [at Penn State] and the kid at Fordham is probably representative of what you want it to be – probably between 10, at a minimum, 15 at an absolute maximum,” Moorhead said in February. “Now, things that happen by improvisation on their own, that’s that. We don’t want to make a living running the quarterback, but anytime he’s a plus-one in the run game, you want to force the defense to defend every blade of grass in the width and length of the field and when the quarterback can be a threat to pull one and run the ball it forces defenses to play you differently.”
“(Tyler’s) a guy that can make plays by design or improvisation, and so are the other guys,” he added in March
Of course, the offense is more than the 10-ish times a game the quarterback tucks it and runs, and on that front Moorhead indicated the scheme will be a mixture of his experiences at Fordham, Penn State and Mississippi State combined with the stuff Oregon already rode to a Pac-12 title. While Moorhead is (obviously) new and former South Carolina offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon joined the staff as wide receivers coach in April, Jim Mastro (running backs), Alex Mirabal (offensive line) and Bobby Williams (tight ends) remain from the existing staff.
“You’ve got a bunch of intelligent, experienced coaches. We all got in a room and hopefully fused the best ideas from both of our systems for the run game; I think more of the changes will bee seen in the pass game,” he said. “But there’s only so many ways you can run inside zone, outside zone, 1-back power. Some of the presentation in terms of RPOs and who we’re reading, I think that will probably be a little bit different.”
Assuming the rebuilt offensive line gives him time, whoever wins the quarterback derby will have plenty of options.
Junior running back CJ Verdell ran for 1,220 yards on 6.19 yards a pop, and fellow junior Travis Dye added 658 yards on 6.21 per. Of the 10 Ducks who caught at least 10 passes last fall, eight return — including seniors Johnny Johnson III, who led the team with 57 grabs, and Jaylon Redd, who caught 50.
Oregon is every bit a deserving favorite to win a second straight Pac-12 crown, but they’ll have to do more than that to return to the Rose Bowl. The Granddaddy is a Playoff semifinal this year, which means the Ducks will either have to upset Ohio State at Autzen Stadium on Sept. 12 or become the first team in Pac-12 history to go a perfect 10-0 in conference play. (Oregon’s 2010 team was the last to go 9-0 in the regular season, but the Pac-12 didn’t have a championship game then.)
The task is undoubtedly tall, but Moorhead’s track record says Oregon could very well return to the Playoff for the first time since 2014.