WSU's Air Raid Hits Its Stride - For One Drive, Anyway

Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

As we look forward to Saturday's game against Colorado and the rest of the season, we wonder how good this offense can be. When the Air Raid is at its best, the offense is marching down the field in 5- to 15-yard chunks thanks to a controlled passing game that is surgical in its execution. Those kinds of drives have been few and far in between, but Friday's win over UNLV provided a magical glimpse into just what the Cougars are capable of.

Washington State opened up the second half of its Friday night game against UNLV with a 28-20 lead, looking to continue its first half production. After a first drive that stalled at the 50 yard line and a stop by the defense, Connor Halliday led the Cougar offense back out onto the field.

The ball was placed on their own 12 yard line with a little under 3 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. What followed was probably the best pure drive of the season so far: The Cougs went 88 yards on 13 plays in 3:19 without committing a penalty, or receiving help from any flags, to score the touchdown that would be the difference in the game. Below, we'll breakdown what happened on each play of the game-winning drive.

Note: "Personnel" denotes running backs and tight ends, e.g. 10 personnel = 1 running back, zero tight ends. Also, this is long - not for the faint of heart! But there are pictures ... and GIFs! Pictures and gifs courtesy of Jeff Collier, who is awesome.

PLAY 1

Time: 2:51

1st and 10, WSU 12, left hash

Formation: 10 personnel, Trips (HYZ) Right

Defense: 4-3, Cover 2 on X side (top), cover 4 on trips side (bottom)

Result: Completion to Isiah Myers (Z) for 2yd gain

Play: The UNLV defense appears to line up in an asymmetrical coverage. We rarely get to see the whole field so it's a little tough to be positive, as the corner could be playing a tighter Cover 4, but from what we can see it looks like cover 2. UNLV chooses to utilize this coverage a few times throughout the drive whenever WSU is on a hash. On the short side of the field (top) the corner shows normal cover 2 alignment, setting up about 7 yds off the ball and watching the backfield. The safety is on the hash at 11 yd.

On the wide side of the field (bottom), the corner has retreated to 10 yd, with the safety at 11. This is typical for cover 4. In this coverage, the outside backer has flat responsibility and bumps out to the inside shade of the middle receiver in the trips formation. The deep half wide side of the field is split in half, with the corner responsible for the sideline ¼ and the safety responsible for the field ¼. The safety up top is responsible for the remaining deep half.

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At the snap, Halliday throws a quick screen to Myers (Z). Rickey Galvin (H) blocks backer head on, with Brett Bartolone (Y) aiding in a double team. The corner and safety are unblocked and were able to close quickly enough to limit Myers to a 2 yd gain.

PLAY 2

Time; 2:25

2nd and 8, WSU 19, right hash

Formation: 20 personnel, split back, Doubles left (top) with X and H

Defense: 4-3, Cover 4

Result: Completion to Marquess Wilson (X) for 11 yd gain

Play: This play occurs mainly off screen, which is really too bad. At the snap H begins a "wheel" route. A wheel is a less exaggerated out-and-up, where the receiver takes about 3-5 steps toward the sideline, then cuts up field. Wilson (X) runs a vertical route for about 7 yds.

In the cover 4, both the corner and safety begin around 10 yd off the ball, and continue to back pedal with X and H running seemingly vertical routes straight at them. The backer flies to the flat, following H on the "out" portion of his wheel.

At 10 yds Wilson, curls in front of the corner and safety. The backer tries to peel off the wheel and follow Wilson inside (again...it is not a good idea to have a backer cover Marquess Wilson). Wilson continues to curl to the inside open pocket in the defense, in front the safety and in between the two closing backers. Halliday makes an excellent throw, down low where only Wilson has the opportunity to catch it.

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PLAY 3

Time: 1:54

1st and 10, WSU 25, left hash

Formation: 10 personnel, Ace with Y and H in tight

Defense: 4-3, Cover 2 on short side of field (top), Cover 4 on wide side (bottom)

Result: Completion to Bobby Ratliff (H) for 9 yd gain

Play: This play highlights a staple of the Air Raid offense, the "mesh" concept. At the snap, Carl Winston (RB) runs to the left, off tackle, and heads to the flat working a shallow mesh with Ratliff (H) at the line of scrimmage. For the mesh, Ratliff cuts right down the sideline and crosses on the up field shoulder of Winston. Both are open coming out of the mesh.

On the wide side of the field Bartolone (Y) and Myers (Z) take off on vertical routes. Backers take their normal coverage drops, leaving wide open space in the shallow field. Ratliff does a great job after the catch immediately cutting up field. Bartolone makes himself useful, turning into a blocker and occupying the safety.

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PLAY 4 (Hurry up pace)

Time; 1:30

2nd and 1, WSU 34, midfield

Formation: 10 personnel, Ace with X and H in tight (top)

Defense: 4-3, Cover 4

Result: Completion to Bartolone (Y) for 5 yd gain

Play: The secondary for UNLV lines up really far off the ball (this is a constant theme), with WSU only needing 1 yd to move the chains. At the snap, Myers (Z) sprints vertically up the sideline on a fade. Bartolone (Y) runs an out around 3 yds. This quick out puts him one on one with the backer responsible for the flats and it essentially becomes a race to the sideline, one Bartolone will usually win. Bartolone makes a nice grab and stumbles a little heading up field, but picks up the first down.

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PLAY 5 (Hurry up pace)

Time: 1:19

1st and 10, WSU 39, right hash

Formation: 10 personnel, Ace

Defense: 4-3, Cover 4

Result: Completion to Wilson (X) for 9 yd gain

Play: The hurry up pace caught backer (#40) a little by surprise, as he barely got to his spot before the snap. The UNLV defense continues to safe guard against the deep routes and set up around 10 yd off the ball. Ratliff (H) runs out to occupy the corner as Wilson (X) catches the quick screen. Wilson is faced with a one-on-one with the outside backer and does his job making him miss. You can see the offensive lineman working hard to get to the second level and block backers.

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PLAY 6 (Hurry up pace)

Time: 0:54

2nd and 0.5, WSU 48.5, left hash

Formation: 20 personnel, split backs, Doubles right (bottom) with Y and Z

Defense: 4-3, Cover 2 short side (top), Cover 4 wide side (bottom)

Result: Winston rush left for 9 yd gain

Play: The offensive line opened up a nice hole for Winston, and Leon Brooks (RB) made a great lead block on the backer. Brooks started on the left of Halliday and went through the hole first. Jeff Nusser provided some excellent video breakdowns on this type of play last week.

The OT takes DE, G takes DT, Brooks takes on the backer trying to fill the hole, and the WR is out blocking the corner. Winston hits the hole, runs through the backer arm tackle and gets up field in a hurry. This team is very good about north-south running; they all make their cuts and gain positive yardage quickly.

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PLAY 7 (Hurry up pace)

Time: 26s

1st and 10, UNLV 43, left hash

Formation: 10 personnel, Ace

Defense: 4-3, Cover 2 on the short side (top), Cover 4 on the wide side (bottom)

Result: Completion to Myers (Z) for 20 yd gain.

Play: On the short side of the field, H stays at line on the snap, drifting toward the sideline as an outlet. X runs a skinny post, mirrored by Y on the wide side of the field. Halfway through the route, Y turns up field and heads straight at the safety. The RB swings toward the flat on the wide side (bottom), this effectively pulls the backer toward the line of scrimmage and opens space between him and the dropping corner. That UNLV corner on the wide side started at 10 yds deep and is almost 25 yd off the ball, giving Myers (Z) an 8 yd cushion.

Myers' exact route isn't caught by the camera, but it looks like he rounds off a vertical route, curling toward the sideline. Myers found the open pocket in front of the corner, behind the backer, and Halliday dropped in a nice touch pass.

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PLAY 8

Time: 0:16

1st and 10, UNLV 23, right hash

Formation: 20 personnel, Ace, Y and Z in tight (short side), X and H spread out past hash (wide side)

Defense: 4-3, Cover 4

Result: Completion to Myers for 7 yd gain

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Play: Halliday makes a check at the line, calling for a screen to Myers (Z). RB switches from the wide side (left) to short side (right). Myers bounces out further to the numbers. On the snap, Bartolone (Y) breaks right, picks up the corner and drives him 5 yd sideways to the sideline. After the catch, Myers reads the field, cuts inside of the great block and gets up field (again, they do this really well). The safety closes to tackle Myers after a 7 yd gain.

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END OF THIRD QUARTER

PLAY 9

Time: 15:00

2nd and 3, UNLV 16, right hash

Formation: 10 personneI. Without knowing the exact name of this formation, we'll go with "Slot" for now. X and Z on wide side (bottom), Andrei Lintz (Y) on right end of the line with his hand down, Ratliff (H) in a wing T position

Defense: 4-2-5, man on X and Z, on the short side of the field the safety looks to take any inside route off that side, and the corner will take anything going to the outside

Result: Incomplete pass to the right (throw away)

Play: This is the first blitz UNLV throws at WSU this drive. At the snap, both backers stunt off tackle (notice the one with long hair). Lintz (Y) on the line of scrimmage, chips the DE then starts his shallow cross just past first down marker and in space vacated by blitzing backers. The blitz is just beginning to break through in our second screen grab (long haired backer wedges past), right at the top of Halliday's drop.

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Halliday has his eyes on the left (wide) side of the field throughout the drop. Unfortunately, we don't get to see what routes X and H are running, but these were probably Halliday's primary targets and could've been either blanketed by the man coverage or weren't expecting a quick throw. Lintz is very open over the middle past the first down, but the blitz freezes Halliday a little and he rolls out to the right, not seeing Lintz and eventually throwing the ball away.

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PLAY 10

Time: 14:52

3rd and 3, UNLV 16, right hash

Formation: 10 personnel, Ace

Defense: 4-3, Cover 4

Results: Incomplete pass to the left

Play: This one was a heartbreaker to see live. There's nothing fancy or tricky about this play at all, it's about as straightforward as a pass play can be. The inside receivers (H) and (Y) run post routes right at the two safeties, pulling them away from the sideline, and leaving the corners alone with the outside receivers. Wilson (X) and Myers (Z) both run fade routes down the sidelines. The RB leaks to middle of field as an outlet. Wilson beats his man and had a shot in the endzone at a very catchable ball, but fails to bring it in. Instead of a TD, WSU faces 4th down.

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PLAY 11

Time: 14:45

4th and 3, UNLV 16, right hash

Formation: 10 personnel, Ace

Defense: 4-2-5, Cover 1 (man coverage with 1 free safety)

Result: Completion to Myers for 13 yd gain

Play: For some reason UNLV elects to position the corner and safety on the short side of the field 7 yds off the ball when it's 4th and 3. Halliday and Myers (Z) exploit that mistake with ease. Bartalone (Y) runs an "in" route across the middle (behind the blitz) at the first down line. The safety responsible for Bartolone jumps his route immediately, removing himself from the play.

Unlv_sg_p11_ Both backers blitz at the snap, but the line and RB handle it nicely. Halliday gets the ball out quickly - actually, he gets it out in about 1.5 seconds making the blitz a non-factor. Myers hitches at 6 yds, 3 yds past the first down marker and a full 5 yds in front of the corner. Myers again gets up field immediately and the free safety comes over to help the corner bring him down.

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PLAY 12

Time: 14:20

1st and goal, UNLV 3, right hash

Formation: 10 personnel, "Slot" with X and Z spread out on wide (bottom) side, with a wing T look like before

Defense: 4-2-5, man coverage on X and H, the short side (top) safety takes inside route and corner takes the outside route. Same coverage used against this formation in Play 9

Result: Incomplete pass to the left

Play: Wilson (X) and Simone (H) are spread to the wide side (bottom) of the field. Wilson scrapes inside to mesh with Simone on an out route. Wilson runs under Simone's route. Winston (RB) starts straight out of the backfield toward the flat, trailing Simone. UNLV was playing man coverage on Simone and Wilson and didn't switch during the mesh. The corner covering Wilson opts to go over the top of both Simone and the safety following him. The backer does a good job flying toward flat to jump Wilson's route.

At the snap, the right DE engages the OT then retreats towards flat when Winston (RB) comes out of the backfield on his side. He effectively drops right into the throwing lane for both Winston and Wilson, and then forces Halliday to throw a lob pass to a decently guarded Simone. This was a very good play by the DE.

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PLAY 13

Time: 14:12

2nd and goal, UNLV 3, right hash

Formation: 20 personnel, split back, Doubles left with X and H on wide side

Defense: 4-3, Cover 2, man coverage on Z

Result: Brooks rush right for 3yd Touchdown

Play: Sick of wide receiver highlights and breakdowns? If one play lets you get excited about what our offensive line can be capable of, it should be this one. Every single one of them manhandled their responsibility. None more so than right OT #55 Wade Jacobsen.

On the short (right, top) side of the field, the C and RG tag team the DT. Jacobsen is man vs. man on the DE, and Winston (RB) blows up the blitz coming through the gap between the offensive tackle and guard.

On the wide (left, bottom) side of the field, the G is man vs. man on the DT and the OT is man vs. man on the DE. The UNLV safeties line up about 8 yds off the ball and are still halfway in endzone as Brooks (RB) gets ball. Brooks receives the handoff and reads the blocking. The DE is cleared to the right, the DT is held up by the G the C helped with a double team.

During the play the C sees the backer try and fill his gap, leaves the double and pins backer to the pile, opening up a running lane on the inside to go along with the one cleared to the outside. The safety also sees these two running lanes open up and correctly fills the outside gap, forcing Brooks to cut to the inside. At that point the offensive line has already gotten a push halfway to the goal line. This was phenomenal blocking up front, especially by Elliot Bosch (C) and Jacobsen (OT).

The first couple times through the GIF, just watch Jacobsen. He pushes his DE 5 yds into the end zone by the time the whistle blows. He was so dominant, the DE tried a spin move 7 yds downfield just to get Jacobsen off of him. The next couple times, appreciate Winston stopping the blitzing backer dead in his tracks. Then give Bosch a look at center, he keeps his head up and leaves the double team to perfectly pin the backer to the inside. Fantastic job by the big guys up front.

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This drive is a perfect example of what the Washington State offense is capable of in the Air Raid. Halliday was incredibly efficient, leading the Cougs down the field on 9-12 passing for 76 yds. His only incompletions were a miss to Simone, a drop and a throw away. The challenge for the Cougar offense going forward will be to get to a point where this performance can be consistently replicated.

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