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Penn State football: Stability at coordinator could be Lions’ greatest strength in 2023

For the first time since 2019, Penn State football will return both coordinators this fall. How could the return of Manny Diaz and Mike Yurcich aid the Nittany Lions’ College Football Playoff hopes?



Penn State Football, Manny Diaz, Mike Yurcich
Sep 10, 2022; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Manny Diaz (center) gestures from the sideline during the second quarter against the Ohio Bobcats at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State football enters the 2023 season with one of the most talented rosters of the James Franklin era. The Nittany Lions are a consistent top-10 team in most preseason polls, and have even pushed their way into the top 5 of some rankings this summer. On both sides of the field, the roster is littered with savvy veterans and talented young players looking to make a run at a Big Ten title and more this fall. But what if the greatest strength for Penn State this season isn’t between the lines? Recently, former Penn State football player turned podcast host Adam Breneman discussed the value that the Nittany Lions have with the return of coordinators Manny Diaz and Mike Yurcich in 2023.

Return of Manny Diaz is one of the biggest wins for Penn State football in 2023

Last year, Penn State had to replace its defensive coordinator for the first time since Brent Pry took over the role following the 2015 season. Not only did Manny Diaz have to walk into a completely new program, but he also had the difficult task of following up one of the best defenses in the nation in 2021.

And yet, somehow, Diaz made the Penn State defense even better. The 2022 Nittany Lions outpaced the 2021 squad in almost every major statistical category. Yards per play dropped. Negative plays skyrocketed. The defense held opponents under 20 points nine times last fall, something it did only six times in 2021.

While Diaz has insisted that each season the process of constructing a team starts over, it’s difficult to deny that the 2023 defense won’t be able to build upon the successes of 2022. In a recent clip posted on Twitter, former Nittany Lion Adam Breneman gave his perspective as a player on the value of Diaz’s return to Happy Valley.

“I think one of the biggest wins of Penn State’s offseason was keeping Manny Diaz,” Breneman said. “I mean, to have another year with the same coordinator, that’s massive. That’s huge. And when you have one coach, you get confidence from having that coach because he’s seen you do it before, so you know that coach believes in you.”

Mike Yurcich provides stability for the young starting quarterback

The story is a little different on the offensive side of the football. Penn State took a massive step forward last season in year two under Mike Yurcich. The Nittany Lions became a more balanced and explosive attack in 2022. Yurcich’s offense scored over 40 points five times last year, something it did once in 2021.

For Breneman, a huge piece of Penn State’s offensive success last year and moving forward is schematic consistency for the Nittany Lions’ quarterbacks. “Not many people talked about it with Sean Clifford; he had a different offensive coordinator every single year of college until he had year two with Mike Yurcich [in 2022]. And now, the same thing with Drew Allar. The opportunity to just have that same the continuity of the system [is significant].”

It can’t be understated how vital this consistency can be for the Nittany Lions’ offense in 2023. Expected starting quarterback Drew Allar will open the season against four Power Five opponents in September, including two Big Ten road games. Making sure that Allar is as comfortable as possible under center will be crucial for Mike Yurcich in the first month of the season, and could make or break Penn State’s College Football Playoff hopes going into October.

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Matt is a co-owner and Editor in Chief of Basic Blues Nation. Launched in 2022, Basic Blues Nation is one of the fastest-growing websites covering all Penn State athletics, with over 3.5 million readers in 2023. Matt is also a credentialed member of the Penn State football beat, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.


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