Fiesta Bowl a matchup of new offensive coordinators for Penn State, Washington

By Derek Levarse - [email protected] | December 29th, 2017 11:59 pm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Ricky Rahne could have used his promotion to come a little earlier.

Not that Penn State’s new offensive coordinator was impatient to further his career. But he still had a little financial obligation to deal with.

“I just finished paying off my school loans not too long ago,” said Rahne, who played quarterback at Cornell, which, like all Ivy League schools, doesn’t offer athletic scholarships.

Safe to say things worked out pretty well from there.

At 36, Rahne was tabbed by Nittany Lions coach James Franklin earlier this month to take over the offense after Joe Moorhead left to take the Mississippi State head job.

Called “a rising star” by Franklin, Rahne will be put right to the test in Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl against Washington’s top-10 defense.

It’s something Rahne wouldn’t have imagined when he first crossed paths with Franklin a decade ago when both coached at Kansas State.

“You never think getting into coaching — you feel you have to be on Wall Street or be a lawyer or something like that,” Rahne said of his Ivy League background. “I got some great advice my senior year and things like that. And I didn’t take it for a couple of years, but I got some great advice if you’re going to go to a place like Cornell, make sure you do whatever you want to do in life. Because that’s the opportunity that’s given to you.

“And I’ve been able to do that. And there’s nothing in the world I’d rather do than coach football. And quite frankly, there’s nowhere in the world I’d rather do it than Penn State.”

Saturday’s game will be a matchup of new play-callers as the Huskies’ own offensive coordinator, Jonathan Smith, also left for a head coaching job at his alma mater, Oregon State.

Unlike Penn State, Washington’s successor isn’t with the team yet. Head coach Chris Petersen has already hired Bush Hamdan to take over, but this weekend he’ll still be serving as Atlanta Falcons quarterbacks coach as they hunt for a playoff spot.

Instead it will be wide receivers coach Matt Lubick running things against the Lions.

“We like to be balanced,” Lubick said. “We think we can run the ball as well as throw the ball. And we think we’ve got a good quarterback (Jake Browning) that can make good decisions, and some playmakers that have proven they can make plays when the ball’s in their hand. And we try not to beat ourselves.”

Neither defense is expecting anything radically new despite the change in offensive coordinators.

“I don’t think you’re going to see a whole lot of difference,” Lions defensive coordinator Brent Pry said. “They’ve been very good, and I wouldn’t anticipate a whole lot being different. You’ll see a little bit because there’s time to do some things. But I think (the Huskies) have done a good job gameplanning the defense they’re seeing.

“So you get in the first couple of series and you get a pretty good idea of what they’re plan of action is.”

On the other side, Franklin promoted Rahne — who had previously coached quarterbacks and tight ends for the Lions — precisely because he didn’t want to change the offense that Moorhead installed to great success.

“A lot of it went into the fact that I really didn’t want to change offenses again,” Franklin said. “I think that’s, again, where you can have some consistency in your program. You got veteran quarterbacks. You’ve got a veteran offense that knows our scheme.

“So for us to continue to grow and evolve, rather than bringing in a new offensive coordinator — if you’re going to go out and hire what people would consider a high-powered coordinator from somewhere else, you can’t expect them to come in and run your system. You’ve got to hire them to come in and run what they’ve been successful doing.”

For Washington, Lubick has one year of experience as an offensive coordinator, having held that title at Oregon in 2016 before coming to the Huskies last February.

Rahne is new to the job, though he has called plays in a bowl game before, having taken those duties in the 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl during the interim between John Donovan and Moorhead.

“It’s always going to be a challenge when you go against a top-10 program,” Rahne said. “You know you’re going to be able to test yourself against some of the best in your business. And that’s something that you’re always looking forward to, just like I know our players are excited to go against their guys.

“So going against the best is what drives all of us. We’re all competitors, so it’s a nice challenge for us and I’m sure they feel the same way.”

Despite some changes to the coaching staff, Penn State players have managed to stay loose in the past week since arriving in Arizona ahead of Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl. some changes to the coaching staff, Penn State players have managed to stay loose in the past week since arriving in Arizona ahead of Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl. Joe Hermitt | AP photo,

By Derek Levarse

[email protected]

Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse