How Will Joe Moorhead Improve Oregon's Offense? An Advanced Stats Profile
Updated: Jan 31
How have Joe Moorhead's offenses graded out in Beta_Rank and S&P+?
Rick DeNice | January 22, 2020
In an off-season less than a week old, coordinators that were once head coaches are on the move and finding their rebound programs. One of the more well-known brand names, Joe Moorhead, has found his fit at the University of Oregon with two-year Head Coach Mario Cristobal. Moorhead replaces Marcus Arroyo, who left to become the new Head Coach at UNLV.
Joe Moorhead acquired a strong track record of success before hitting a speed bump at Mississippi State, where a combination of team issues and a losing record in the SEC led to his dismissal in 2019.
Can Moorhead bounce back at Oregon? Below you'll find the metrics from both Beta_Rank and S&P+ of Moorhead’s last three stints as a play caller and as a head coach. He has an excellent opportunity to push Oregon into the small group of elite teams competing for the college football playoffs.
Mississippi State (Head Coach 2018-2019)
Beta_Rank Mississippi State National Ranking: 34th Offense National Ranking: 25th | Rushing Offense: 7th | Passing Offense: 97th
S&P+ National Ranking: 51st | Offense National Ranking: 36th
Beta_Rank Mississippi State National Ranking: 4th Offense National Ranking: 27th | Rushing Offense: 8th | Passing Offense: 98th
S&P+ National Ranking: 8th Offense National Ranking: 18th | Rushing Offense: 6th | Passing Offense: 93rd
After two successful years as Penn State’s offensive coordinator, Moorhead was hired as Mississippi’s Head Coach to replace Dan Mullen, who had Mississippi State humming by fielding back-to-back top-25 offenses according to Beta_Rank in 2015-16. Moorhead continued the trend, rocking two top-30 offenses. Notably, Moorhead spurned the heavy passing attack that he had found successful at Penn State, leaning instead on an effective rushing attack that ranked in the top 10 nationally during both of his years in Starkville.
Take a look at Beta_Rank’s Team Deep Dive Tool to compare Mississippi State’s improved explosive drives, play efficiency, and negative drives between Moorhead’s first and second years with the Bulldogs (and also the significant drop in drive efficiency).
Penn State (Offensive Coordinator 2016-2017)
Beta_Rank Offense National Ranking: 3rd | Rushing Offense: 29th | Passing Offense: 3rd
S&P+ Offense National Ranking: 5th | Rushing Offense: 5th | Passing Offense: 10th
Beta_Rank Offense National Ranking: 9th | Rushing Offense: 30th | Passing Offense: 11th
S&P+ Offense National Ranking: 23rd | Rushing Offense: 52nd | Passing Offense: 3rd
Before Moorhead’s arrival in Happy Valley in 2016, Penn State’s offense finished 2015 ranked 64th and 71st nationally in Beta_Rank and S&P+. Shackled by inefficiency, (105th in drive efficiency/71st in play efficiency) and a less than stellar passing attack (51st), the Nittany Lions turned to a creative mind at the FCS level to turn their offense around.
Joe Moorhead delivered, shooting Penn State to 9th in Beta_Rank and 23rd in S&P+ in his first year and improving yet again in 2017 (3rd in Beta_Rank and 5th in S&P+). Improvements on multiple fronts, including offensive drive efficiency (3rd down completion rose from 32% to 48% from 2016 to 2017), negative drives (19 point improvement), and critically, an elite passing attack, are why Mississippi State offered Moorhead more than $2.5 million a year to coach in Starkville.
Fordham (Head Coach 2012-2015)
Neither Beta_Rank nor S&P+ publicly track the advanced stats for FCS schools. Because of this, we must use the dreaded total offense metrics. Fortunately, the raw numbers show a striking pattern -- one that highlights a remarkable improvement in offensive production over four years. This production allowed Joe Moorhead inherit a 1-10 program and amass a 38-13 record that included three trips to the FCS playoffs. His teams at Fordham are considered some of the best in the history of the school.
2015: Total Offense: 7th | Rushing Offense: 55th | Passing Offense: 4th
2014: Total Offense: 7th | Rushing Offense: 70th | Passing Offense: 3rd
2013: Total Offense: 20th | Rushing Offense: 54th | Passing Offense: 18th
2012: Total Offense: 98th | Rushing Offense: 108th | Passing Offense 41st
On the surface, Joe Moorhead seems like a natural fit at a perennial top 10 program under Cristobal. Oregon will bring back the majority of its top-ranked defense, which will help support an offense rebuilding its foundation with the departure of quarterback Justin Herbert and 6 key members of its offensive line. Moorhead’s innovative play calling should be maximized with the level of athlete at the skill positions at Oregon.
Even with Herbert leaving, sophomore Tyler Shough, the early preseason favorite to win the job, has plenty of tools for Moorhead to work with. In 2019, the Duck offense finished 21st in Beta_Rank (improved from 64th in 2018) and used a combination of explosive drives and eliminating negative plays to lead them to a Rose Bowl win. Still, there's room for improvement. Particularly in the running game where the Ducks finished 44th. With a head coach like Cristobal who preaches trench-play and toughness, coming up with innovative ways to bring the run game back to par should be a priority for Oregon over the off-season as they dissect the old offense.
Look for Moorhead to come in and steady an offense in flux with young, emerging talent. There is no reason, based on Moorhead’s track record, to indicate the Ducks can’t maintain a top 25 (or better) offensive beta ranking, as long as he is in as offensive coordinator.
In a conference known for its offensive innovation and dynamic play-calling, Moorhead should continue to elevate the level of play for the Oregon offense over the next few years and hopefully elevate the Ducks offense to make them a perennial playoff contender.