After a quick but extensive search, the East Carolina Pirates have a new offensive coordinator in Tony Peterson. The 49-yard old has spent the last three seasons overseeing the Louisiana Tech offense. Before that, the former Marshall quarterback spent the 2010-2012 seasons at his alma mater, working as the Co-Offensive Coordinator under Doc Holliday.
Peterson has been in the coaching profession since 1990, spending the majority of his coaching career with the Thundering Herd. He was part of the coaching staff at Marshall that won the 1992 and 1996 Division I-AA championships. During his time at Marshall, he has been the quarterbacks coach for Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich, and Rakeem Cato.
What should the Pirates faithful expect with Peterson taking control of the offense in the 2016 season?
Much of the same as in 2015 and previous seasons. Peterson is no stranger to the passing game and the air raid attack that made East Carolina a feared team in recent seasons. In his last six seasons as an offensive coordinator (Marshall and La. Tech), his offenses have passed the ball no less than 48% of the time. When the cupboard is full of talent, he has led some of the most impressive passing games in the nation.
Cato threw for over 4,000 yards as a sophomore in 2012, Peterson's last season at Marshall.
Just last year, Peterson took Jeff Driskel and turned him into a legit NFL prospect. The same Driskel that basically lost the ability to throw a football while at Florida. The Bulldogs were #13 nationally with 323.2 yards per game in the air. In 2012 at Marshall and 2015 at Louisiana Tech, the offense ended the season in the top 25 nationally.
2012 in particular was a special season for Peterson. That year his offense finished the season as the sixth ranked offense in the nation at 534.3 yards per game. They had the #1 passing attack in the nation with 365.1 yards per game and passed the ball over 600 times on the year.
What is clear about Peterson is his preference for the passing game. When his teams are at their best, they are passing the ball on approximately 52-53% of all snaps. That number jumps even higher when a special quarterback like Cato or Driskel is behind center.
I mean look at what Driskel turned into during one season with Peterson.
So how does Kurt Benkert fit in?
Benkert is Peterson's favorite type of quarterback. A passer with a strong arm that can also gain yards on the ground. Meaning no offense to Marshall fans, Benkert has the ability to be Cato with a body more built to take punishment. He will gain lots of yards in the air and on the ground.
With the Pirates returning virtually every receiver on the roster except for tight end Bryce Williams, Peterson has lots of toys to use. If healthy, Benkert should be in store for at least 3,000 yards in the air and another 200 or so on the ground.
Sound good, but what about the running game as a whole?
You had to bring that up. To put it nicely, the running game at both Marshall and Louisiana Tech is not very impressive under Peterson. Only once in the last six seasons did a Peterson led offense finished in the top 60 in rushing offense. At first glance, you would think that has to do with the team passing the ball quite a bit. Alas, only once has the rushing percentage been below 45%.
Even with bruising running back Kenneth Dixon, the Bulldogs were only able rush for 159.6, 148.6, and 160.2 yards per game in the last three seasons. Do not expect the issues that plagued the running game under the previous regime to suddenly be fixed under Peterson.
I would expect head coach Scottie Montgomery to attempt to put more of an emphasis on the running game as Duke's 192.9 yards per game on the ground in 2015 suggests. Even with a renewed emphasis on the run game, the coaching staff can only use the players on their roster. That roster points towards lots of pass attempts in 2015.
Peterson is not the sexy hire that stealing Rod Smith from Arizona would have been, but he is a coach that I fully believe will end up as a head coach in the next few years. The offense should be in good shape under Peterson.