Bruce Feldman of The Athletic is reporting that Kansas offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki is expected to become the new OC at Penn State. James Franklin fired offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich following the loss to Michigan in Week 11. Kotelnicki will be Franklin’s sixth offensive coordinator in his time at Penn State.
Once again, Penn State and James Franklin couldn’t get past Ohio State and Michigan, and it wasn’t because of the defense. So, Franklin said he was looking for someone who could be the head coach of the offense, pointing to opening drives success, success on third down, and explosive plays, as the key parameters of his search.
He settled on Kotelnicki who despite losing his starting quarterback, Jalon Daniels, to injury for most of this season, had Kansas ranked No. 8 in the country in yards per play at 6.8. Yurcich’s Penn State offense ranked 73rd at 5.3. Kotelnicki ‘s offense also ticked the boxes of third down success and explosive plays, ranking 14th in third down conversion percentage at 47.54% and 23rd in plays from scrimmage over 20 yards with 67.
Penn State was 66th in third-down success and 117th with just 40 plays over 20 yards from scrimmage in the regular season.
Kotelnicki took over as the OC in Lawrence in 2021. He was previously with Kansas head coach Lance Leipold at Buffalo and Wisconsin-Whitewater. In Year 1, his offense ranked 105th in the country and the Jayhawks went 2-10. Then, in 2022, they improved to 7-5 behind an offense that ranked 33rd in the country, and this season Leipold and Kotelnicki’s team went 8-4 and was 30th in total offense.
After Yurcich was fired, Franklin and co-offensive coordinators Ja-Juan Seider and Ty Howle all spoke about simplifying things on that side of the ball. Franklin even praised his team for only having one missed assignment in the 27-6 win over Rutgers.
After that game, tight end Tyler Warren even told reporters “We talked about being simple equals playing with speed and that was a big part of it.”
Well, Franklin seems to be abandoning the mantra: “Keep it simple stupid” with this hire. Kotelnicki is known for his creativity as a play-caller, namely in his use of pre-snap motion and play-action, which Kansas utilized on 42% of quarterback Jason Bean’s dropbacks this season.
He’ll inherit a talented offense in Happy Valley, but not one without holes. The Nittany Lions are lacking in wide receiver talent and will lose left tackle Olu Fashanu to the NFL. However, Kotelnicki will get to work with juniors Drew Allar, Nick Singleton, and Kaytron Allen, the core of the Penn State offense.
It will be a seamless fit for the two talented running backs. Kansas became very familiar with a running back rotation under Kotelnicki. Devin Neal got the bulk of the work this season, rushing for 1,209 yards and averaging 6.6 yards per carry, but Daniel Hishaw Jr. also got 116 carries and turned them into 599 yards. The Jayhawks finished ninth in yards per rush.
He’s also uniquely suited to solve Penn State’s problems at wide receiver. Kansas didn’t have a single receiver with over 40 catches this season. The Jayhawks primarily spread the ball around to a group of three wideouts and a tight end, who all averaged over 13.5 yards per reception, higher than any Penn State pass-catcher with over 10 grabs.
The fit with Allar will be more interesting. It’s a clash of styles, but it’s also exactly what Allar needs. In 2023, Allar had one of the lowest usages of play-action and lowest depth of target in the entire country.
Allar’s average depth of target of 8.0 ranked 136th out of 162 qualified quarterbacks, and only 9.8% of his passes traveled over 20 yards downfield, the lowest in the country. Jason Bean finished the regular season with an ADOT of 12.7 which was ninth highest, and a staggering 21.1% of his throws were thrown over 20 air yards.
Penn State’s play-action usage was also well below where Kansas was under Kotelnicki. Bean utilized a play-action fake on 42% of his dropbacks and averaged 10.1 yards per attempt on those throws, while Allar was just at 27.8% and 7.6 yards per attempt.
The new offensive coordinator will force his junior quarterback out of his comfort zone, so don’t expect another season with just one interception for Allar, but Penn State should have a much more explosive offense in 2024.
If Kotelnicki can get the most out of Drew Allar, in what is potentially his final season of college football, then this hire is a home run. The reality for any offensive coordinator is that his success is largely judged by that of his quarterback.