Story by Patrick Pierson, Associate AD/Communications (Football) | Twitter: @Pierson_SID
EUGENE, Ore. – Coming off a 12-win season that was capped by victories in the Pac-12 Championship Game and the Rose Bowl, Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal officially named Joe Moorhead the program’s offensive coordinator on Tuesday.
Moorhead spent the last two seasons as the head coach at Mississippi State, becoming just the second coach in program history to lead the Bulldogs to bowl games in each of his first two seasons. Prior to MSU, Moorhead spent two seasons at Penn State where he twice was named the national offensive coordinator of the year.
“The search for our next offensive coordinator was extensive and drew interest from coaches at all levels from around the country,” Cristobal said. “It was a thorough process, because we wanted to not only get the best coach for the University of Oregon, but also the best fit for our student-athletes and coaches. I’m fired up to welcome Joe, his wife Jennifer, daughter Kyra and sons Mason and Donovan, to Eugene and our football family.
“I’ve admired Joe’s offensive philosophy and ability as a play caller from afar, and after meeting with him I was even more impressed. He is a great teacher and communicator, and instills confidence and belief in his players. His offenses have been explosive, balanced, multiple and creative. More importantly, he’s a great man, father and husband who our players and staff will enjoy working with.”
One of college football’s top offensive minds, Moorhead has called played plays 12 of the last 13 seasons, including the last eight, with stops as head coach at Mississippi State (2018-19) and Fordham (2012-15), while serving as the OC at Penn State (2016-17), Connecticut (2009-11) and Akron (2006-08) over that span. He has been the play-caller for four programs that have won a conference championship, including Penn State (2016), Fordham (2014), Connecticut (2010) and Akron (2005).
“I’m extremely excited and very appreciative of Coach Cristobal for this opportunity,” Moorhead said. “I’m looking forward to helping build on the great success the program has already had and I can’t wait to experience game day in Autzen Stadium.”
In his two seasons at Mississippi State, Moorhead’s offense led the SEC and finished tied for fourth among Power 5 programs with 16 200-yard rushing performances, a key stat for Oregon under coach Cristobal – the Ducks are 10-0 the last two seasons when they rush for 200 yards. Three of Mississippi State’s eight games in school history with 600 or more yards of offense came under Moorhead.
State’s balanced rushing attack was led by Associated Press first-team all-SEC running back Kylin Hill, who finished third in the conference with 1,350 yards on the ground in 2019. Hill was complemented by quarterback Garrett Shrader, one of three FBS freshman QBs to throw for 1,000 yards and rush for 500 yards, despite playing in just 10 games.
Shrader was the not the first quarterback under Moorhead’s guidance to beat defenses with his arm and his legs. In Moorhead’s first season leading the Bulldogs, senior QB Nick Fitzgerald joined Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray as the only two Power 5 QBs to rush for 1,000 yards. Fitzgerald finished as the SEC’s all-time leader for rushing yards by a quarterback, surpassing Tim Tebow.
Moorhead compiled a 14-12 record over his two seasons as head coach at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs went 2-0 against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl and had a pair of ranked wins in the SEC West, which has supplied a team in the CFP Championship Game five straight years. Moorhead became just the second coach in Bulldog history to reach a bowl game in his first season, guiding State to its first Outback Bowl and the program’s second-highest finish ever in the College Football Playoff rankings at No. 18
Named Sports Illustrated and Yahoo’s No. 1 rising assistant in college football in August 2017, Moorhead transformed Penn State offensively en route to a combined 21-5 record, a 17-3 mark in Big Ten regular-season play, the 2016 Big Ten championship, two New Year’s Six bowls and back-to-back top-10 national rankings under head coach James Franklin.
The Nittany Lion offense exploded under Moorhead, scoring 30 or more points in 21 of the 26 games he coordinated, good for the third-most nationally from 2016-17. Before Moorhead’s arrival, the Nittany Lions ranked No. 100 in scoring offense in 2015; they went on to finish seventh nationally at 39.3 points per game over his two seasons. Even more impressive, Penn State averaged 38.3 points against Big Ten defenses in 2016 and 2017, when the conference featured seven different programs that finished in the top 25 in scoring defense at least once over those two seasons.
Moorhead’s balanced and explosive offense helped 2018 No. 2 overall NFL draft pick Saquon Barkley total 2,329 all-purpose yards in his final season at Penn State in 2017. Barkley became the first Big Ten running back to claim multiple conference Offensive Player of the Year honors and totaled 4,301 all-purpose yards in two seasons under Moorhead. Quarterback Trace McSorley added to Penn State’s lethal backfield and became just the second player in conference history with 25 TD passes and 10 rushing TDs. McSorley was also the first player in Penn State history to pass for 3,000 yards in multiple seasons in his two years with Moorhead.
Moorhead’s 2017 offense broke the school records for passing yards (3,772) and points scored (534) set by his 2016 unit. For the second time in his career, Moorhead was recognized as the National Offensive Coordinator of the Year during a Nittany Lions season that was capped with a Fiesta Bowl berth. The Nittany Lions ranked in the Top 25 nationally in seven different offensive categories, including seventh in points per game (41.1), fifth in third-down conversion percentage (48.0), 14th in passing efficiency (153.6), 17th in yards per play (6.55), 19th in total offense (460.3), 23rd in passing yards per game (290.2) and 21st in red-zone conversion percentage (89.8). They also produced four 50-point games, representing the most in a Penn State season since 1994.
In Moorhead’s first season, Penn State shattered then-school records for total offense (6,056), passing yards (3,650) and points scored (526). He earned National Offensive Coordinator of the Year honors by 247Sports, as the Nittany Lions claimed their first outright Big Ten championship in two decades and a berth in the Rose Bowl. Penn State improved its scoring average by a staggering 14.4 points from 2015 to 2016, which ranked fourth nationally. Penn State leaped 79 spots to No. 21 in scoring offense in Moorhead’s first season and went from No. 105 in total offense to No. 49.
McSorley, in his first season under Moorhead, threw a school-record 29 touchdown passes en route to earning All-Big Ten second-team honors, Big Ten Championship Game MVP and Maxwell Club Tri-State Player of the Year. Barkley was tabbed as the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, the first for a Nittany Lion in 12 years.
Moorhead spent four seasons as the head coach at Fordham before joining the Penn State staff. During his tenure, the Rams compiled a 38-13 record from 2012-15. After inheriting a 1-10 program, Moorhead built Fordham into a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) powerhouse, leading the Rams to a 12-2 record, the best season in program history in 2013 and the Patriot League title in 2014. Fordham reached the FCS playoffs the last three seasons under Moorhead’s leadership while compiling a 32-8 record during that stretch.
During the Moorhead era, Fordham reached the highest ranking in program history (No. 5 in 2013) and the highest final ranking in program history (No. 9 in 2013 and 2014), while recording the first two wins over FBS schools in program history and the first two wins over top-10 opponents in school history.
In 2013, Moorhead earned AFCA Regional Co-Coach of the Year and Patriot League Coach of the Year honors after leading Fordham to its first win over an FBS opponent (Temple) and the school’s first two wins over FCS top-10 opponents (Villanova, Lehigh). He was also a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award and the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year.
In 2014, Moorhead led the Rams to their first Patriot League title since 2007 with a perfect 6-0 mark in league play and an 11-3 record overall. Moorhead coached the 2014 winner of the Jerry Rice Award as the most outstanding freshman player in the FCS, three consecutive Patriot League Offensive Players of the Year, 11 All-Americans, five CoSIDA Academic All-Americans and 55 All-Patriot League performers (37 first team, 18 second team) at Fordham. The Rams were one of the top offensive teams in the FCS during Moorhead’s stint at Fordham, setting 16 school records (individual and team) in 2013 and 2014.
Before taking the helm at his alma mater, Moorhead spent three seasons at Connecticut, including two as the offensive coordinator. He served as the offensive coordinator in 2009 and 2010, leading an offense that finished second in the Big East Conference in scoring offense and rushing offense in 2010, as the Huskies won the conference title and earned a spot in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma. Following the season, running back Jordan Todman was named second-team All-America and Big East Offensive Player of the Year.
Prior to Connecticut, Moorhead served as an assistant coach at Akron for five years (2004-08), including the final two as offensive coordinator. Akron was the most improved school in the nation in 2008 in total offense, and it was the sixth-most improved in scoring offense.
Moorhead served as the assistant head coach, pass game and recruiting coordinator on Akron’s only conference championship team in the program’s more than 120-year history in 2005. The Zips claimed the Mid-American Conference Eastern Division title and then topped Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game to secure the school’s first-ever bowl appearance.
A graduate of Fordham with a degree in English in 1996, Moorhead was a three-year starter at quarterback and a team captain as a senior. He earned second-team All-Patriot League recognition as a senior, finishing 13th nationally in total offense. He finished his career with school single-season records for completions and passing yards. Following his collegiate career, Moorhead spent time in the training camp of the Milwaukee Mustangs of the Arena Football League after playing the 1996 season for the Munich Cowboys of the E.F.A.F.
Moorhead and his wife, Jennifer, have three children: daughter Kyra, and sons Mason and Donovan.
Moorhead will take over the play-calling duties for an Oregon offensive unit that welcomes back 95 percent of its rushing yards and 71 percent of its receiving yards. The Ducks will be led by a new QB with the graduation of projected first-round pick Justin Herbert, but return Outland Trophy winner Penei Sewell at left tackle, leading rusher CJ Verdell and leading receiver Johnny Johnson III.
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