Is the Air Raid experiencing some turbulence?

I’m sure most of you saw how Florida shut down Texas A&M’s offense in the second half of their game.

… In the second half, the Aggies averaged 2.8 yards per play, and managed just one play that gained 10 yards or more. All six of Texas A&M’s second-half drives ended in punts, including four “3 & outs.”

What you may have overlooked is how slow a start they’ve gotten off to at Washington State.

Washington State failed to score even a single touchdown in its season-opening defeat, but the Cougars’ offensive aimed to get in sync and put up some gaudy numbers against their FCS opponent. Unfortunately for the offense, Eastern Washington took a page out of BYU’s defensive game plan and frustrated Washington State’s offense throughout much of the game.

For an offense returning the majority of its core from the 2011 season that saw the Cougars average 342 passing yards/game, the 247 passing yards (227 if you include sack yardage) accumulated on Saturday was another early-season disappointment. Eastern Washington countered the Cougars’ Air Raid attack by consistently dropping eight defenders while rushing just three. Eastern Washington found different ways to disguise its fronts before flooding the passing zones with defenders, sometimes opting to go with just three down linemen, other times going with a fourth who would drop into coverage.

Don’t be so quick to dismiss that as “oh, it’s Washington State”.  As the post indicates, it’s not as if Mike Leach didn’t inherit some talent on that side of the ball.  The Cougars were ninth in the NCAA last year in passing offense.

No, the issue here may be something else.

The bread and butter of Mike Leach’s offenses over the years have been short, high-percentage passing plays that often act as a replacement for the running game. In the opening two weeks of the season, both BYU and Eastern Washington have consistently rushed just three defenders, flooding the short passing zones. On Saturday, Eastern Washington consistently dropped a defensive tackle into the short hole to disrupt Leach’s renowned short crossing patterns. Cougars quarterback Jeff Tuel (before leaving the game due to injury) consistently struggled to find open wideouts in these eight-man zone coverage, and was often forced to scramble for short gains.

To counteract these eight-man zones, Washington State eventually had to do something that had to drive Mike Leach crazy: commit to the running game[Emphasis added.]  In a stark contrast to Leach’s offensive philosophy, Washington State ran the ball a startling 27 times, not including sacks. Contrary to last week’s running performance, one in which Washington State rushed 13 times for just 17 yards, the Cougars found moderate success on the ground this week rushing for 128 non-sack yards (4.7 per carry).

Look what happened to TAMU’s running game in that second half:  less attempts, significantly less yardage and a much lower ypc average.

Now, true, we’re still dealing with small sample sizes here.  Leach thinks his team’s problem is with execution and he deserves the benefit of the doubt.  But we all know that good defensive coordinators adapt.  It’ll be interesting to see if the trend continues in how these offenses are defended and, if so, how the play callers respond.

It’s worth noting that Leach disciple Dana Holgorsen may have a step on the master in that regard.  His West Virginia team currently ranks fourth nationally in rushing offense (with a ridiculous 9.46 ypc average).

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10 Comments

Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

10 responses to “Is the Air Raid experiencing some turbulence?

  1. justin

    These are, regardless of talent on the teams, new installations. Holgorsen’s team struggled last year to consistently move the ball, and then look what a month worth of reps after having game time did when they got to a bowl game and then their first game against Marshall (yes, CUSA team, but an 8 win team from last year).

  2. WarD Eagle

    I would take any of those stats. AU is currently running the BenchRaid – run 3 plays, punt, sit on the bench while the defense is overrun by even the worst of teams.

  3. Ubiquitous GA Alum

    A QB that can run & throw (see WV) would seem to negate the tactic of flooding the passing zones … 3 DT vs 4 OL is just asking for the QB to take off … TAMU’s QB did that in the first half and then UF’s d-line kind of mushed instead of pursued to clog the running lanes & they left a LB on the QB and it shut him down in the second half.

    • The other Doug

      Yep. It looked to me like UF’s half time adjustment was to have someone spy the QB.

    • Irwin R Fletcher

      That’s what I was thinking…you should be able to pick up solid yardage against that type of defense with any semblance of a running game or just a running QB.

  4. Rocket Dawg

    It would seem like the obvious counter to rush 3/drop 8 would be to run the ball simply from a numbers perspective.

    I would imagine that the 8 that drop would be the CB’s and S in quarters coverage to take away the deep ball, a nickel CB and 2 LB’s in a medium zone drop to take away the underneath throws and a DT/DE dropping shallow to take away the crossing routes as was described in the article. This should leave 5 to block 3 on running plays where I would think you could average 4-6 ypc depending on how quickly the LB’s react and close from their medium drop zones.

  5. From what I read this summer, it takes a year or two to install the Air Raid properly. There are a lot of reads required by both the QB and the WRs and the only way to get good at those reads is lots and lots of reps.

  6. Good defenses are quickly catching up with the “sideline-to-sideline” spread. If you can’t run the ball effectively or threaten to stretch the field vertically, you really have no chance to move the ball consistently. If all I have to do is play 2 deep safeties with 5 or 6 in zone, I may give up yards, but you’re going to earn every inch of it.

  7. gastr1

    I hear a lot people saying things that sound a lot like the solution is in better run-pass balance versus player-to-player or sideline-to-sideline balance. Hmmm.