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How will Penn State OC Andy Kotelnicki’s offense translate to the Big Ten? Look to the film

Andy Kotelnicki has coached at Wisconsin-Whitewater, Buffalo and Kansas before now heading to Penn State. The creative offensive coordinator could be in for a banner year in 2024, with better personnel than he’s used to.

Penn State has a new offensive coordinator, and with him could come a different offensive scheme. Offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki has been successful alongside head coach Lance Leipold at Wisconsin-Whitewater, Buffalo and Kansas and will now bring his offense to State College.

While those past units had success in Division III, the Mid-American Conference and the Big 12, there could be questions about how well everything will translate to the Big Ten level and the defenses that come with it.

We watched the film of the new offensive coordinator’s offense at Kansas to take a look at what Kotelnicki does and how it will translate.

Passing game

One of the first things you’ll notice with Kotelnicki’s offenses is just how creative they are, both in the running game and the passing game, and how he uses both to set up the other. His groups have generally been very run-pass option (RPO) forward — giving his quarterback at least one read to make on a high number of plays to decide whether to throw the ball or turn it into a running play. That has frequently freed up his receivers to make plays behind the defense because linebackers are forced to hesitate thanks to the threat of the run, not allowing them to get into their coverage responsibilities.

There will be plenty of discussion — as there was this season — about getting playmakers in space, but that’s essentially what most modern offenses are trying to do. Kotelnicki’s is no different. He uses misdirection to get the defense off balance and does it in multiple ways. He puts players in motion and alters formations to draw focus away — like when he used a modified swinging gate against Illinois on Sept. 8, with the offensive line split out wide and three skill position players next to the center in the middle of the field. He does whatever he can to make defenses think too much.

We heard a lot of Penn State offensive players talk about the simplicity of the offense allowing them to play fast following Mike Yurcich’s departure as OC. The same holds true for defense, and Kotelnicki tries to take that simplicity away to slow them down.

All in all, this passing game will likely feature quite a bit of jet motion, crossing routes and quarterback rollouts with reads that are easy on the offense and complicated for the defense.

Running game

Kotelnicki’s running game could be where his bread is buttered at Penn State, and that should be the case even if he has a quarterback that isn’t an elite running threat. He uses a wide zone scheme — different from the outside zone that Yurcich liked to use prior to his time at Penn State — that relies more on horizontal blocking to give the running back space. Essentially, the back runs wide until there’s a hole to cut back into and get down the field. Kotelnicki uses it with his RPO game and his spread option game to give his players more choices on the field and to put the defense in conflict.

Like in the passing game, he’ll use motion to distract the defense or to put it in worse position to defend the run. Notably, he’s even done that with two quarterbacks at Kansas, playing Jalon Daniels and Jason Bean together, with one lined up at running back. They would have a mesh point with the two quarterbacks with multiple options on either play. Either Daniels could keep the ball and take off, or hand off to Bean who also had passing options downfield — or he could run on his own.

That kind of misdirection is going to be a massive advantage as Kotelnicki’s talent level on offense increases. And in Year 1, he will arguably have, as a whole, the most talented personnel he’s worked with in his career. His creative misdirection in the running game should only increase as his players get better.

Outlook

All of the above is to say that Penn State’s offense in 2024 should be one of the best — and most creative — in the program’s history. Kotelnicki has an elite talent at quarterback in Drew Allar and an athletic backup in Beau Pribula, whom he can bring on the field to run some of the two quarterback packages he did at Kansas. Neither is the same level of athlete as Daniels, but Pribula is more than athletic enough to make the formations effective.

On top of that, the running backs could be in for career years. That goes for both Kaytron Allen and Nick Singleton, who should excel in a system where they can make one cut and get downfield. It wouldn’t be a surprise if both backs eclipse 1,000 yards next season on the best efficiency of their career.

While the team’s wide receivers have been a weak point this season, Kotelnicki should be able to get the team’s best athletes on the outside into space more effectively than Yurcich did with his use of motion and misdirection. The running game should be so good that opposing defenses will have to put most of their focus on it, opening up the passing attack for Allar. He should be able to attack the middle of the field on RPOs where linebackers crash down and vacate space for him to throw.

Frankly, Kotelnicki is one of the most creative play callers and play designers in the country. There will undoubtedly be times where his creativity backfires, but he should be able to put together an elite offense next year regardless of what happens with the personnel at receiver.