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Air Raid Playbook: Names and sets of WSU offensive formations under Mike Leach

In this installment of our series deconstructing the Air Raid playbook Mike Leach brought to WSU, we turn our focus to the offense by describing the prevalent formations and what Coach Leach calls them.


During these couple of months leading up to the Crimson and Gray game, we will be presenting an Air Raid playbook series. The hope is that you'll get a better understanding of how the offense works and why it's conceptually able to exploit defenses, and if you're able to apply that to enhance your enjoyment of watching the Cougs, all the better.

After becoming familiar with some of the defensive coverages WSU will face, let's focus on the names and sets of common Coug offensive formations.

Of all North American sports, football has the most rules. Two people independently counted the NFL rule book and both came up with 367 distinct rules. The NCAA football rule book spans 197 pages; FIFA's soccer rule book is 138. In it there are 12 listed "Rules" in the table of contents, but this is just a masquerade. Each rule is broken up into sections, articles and subsections. For instance, "Rule 8 Scoring" is six pages long with seven different sections, each with its own list of articles.

Did you miss learning about defenses? Reading the defense Defensive coverages in action

Interestingly enough, the rules of football mandate what number a player can wear. This restriction isn't without a purpose, as the numbering system serves to define who is allowed to be in what position on the field. This leads us to the topic of this post: offensive formations.

Recommended numbers for a standard offensive formation. NCAA 2011-2012 Rules and Interpretations.


Football rules shape what offensive formations are possible during game play. Let's hear the rules straight from the horse's mouth.

Offensive Team Requirements-At the Snap

ARTICLE 4. Each of the following (a-c) is a live-ball foul and the play is allowed to continue.

a. Formation. At the snap Team A must be in a formation that meets these requirements:

1. All players must be inbounds.

2. All players must be either linemen or backs (Rule 2-27-4).

3. At least five linemen must wear jerseys numbered 50 through 79

(Exception: When the snap is from a scrimmage kick formation, par. 5 below.)

4. No more than four players may be backs.

5. In a scrimmage kick formation at the snap (Rule 2-16-10) Team A may have fewer than five linemen numbered 50-79, subject to the following conditions:

FR-70 Rule 7 / Snapping and Passing the Ball

(a) Any and all linemen not numbered 50-79 who are ineligible receiver(s) by position become exceptions to the numbering rule when the snapper is established.

(b) Any and all such numbering-exception players must be on the line and may not be on the end of the line. Otherwise, Team A commits a foul for an illegal formation.

(c) Any and all such players are exceptions to the numbering rule throughout the down and remain ineligible receivers unless they become eligible under Rule 7-3-5 (forward pass touched by an official or a Team B player).

The conditions in 5(a) - 5(c) are no longer in effect if prior to the snap a period ends or there is a timeout charged to the referee or one of the teams. (A.R. 7-1-3-I-II).

b. Man in Motion.

1. One back may be in motion, but he may not be moving toward his opponent's goal line.

2. The player who goes in motion may not start from the line of scrimmage unless he first becomes a back and comes to a complete stop.

3. A player in motion at the snap must have satisfied the one-second rule-i.e., he may not start his motion before any shift has ended (Rule 2-22-1-c).

c. Illegal Shift. At the snap, Team A may not execute an illegal shift (Rule 7-1-2-a). (A.R. 7-1-3-I-III).

In analyzing Leach's formations, we drew from a publicly available copy of the 1999 Oklahoma Sooners playbook, when he was the offensive coordinator. He has been consistent in his naming conventions through Texas Tech, and now here at Washington State. This is by no means comprehensive, and there are some gray areas we aren't sure on, but every formation detailed below was used in the ASU, UCLA and Apple Cup games.

Coach Leach favors 10 personnel. Personnel packages refer to what skill position players (TE, RB, WR) are on the field. The first digit identifies the number of running backs (RB) and the second the number of tight ends (TE). Therefore 10 personnel has 1 RB and 0 TE. The 4 wide receivers (WR) is implied, two of which must be on the line of scrimmage to satisfy the 7 total lineman requirement.

This is the most common formation you will see WSU line up in.



Notice the WR on the left and right are not mirrors of each other. This formation is said to be "right handed" (which has nothing to do with the handedness of the quarterback). Within Coach Leach's system, verbal modifiers to his base formations, like Ace, are used to manipulate the position of wide receivers. The modifier "Rip" will move Y off the ball and Z on, giving us a mirrored formation.

Ace Rip


Moving receivers on, or off the ball will change the spacing of their routes down field. If receivers are trained to take two steps and break on a route, two steps from on the line and two steps from off the line is the difference of a few yards. With short crossing routes, the spacing of the receivers under 5 yards becomes very important.

WSU has also shown a left handed version of Ace, and one where H and Y are on the line with X and Z off. We are unsure what modifiers are used to move into those formations from Ace, but they are likely short and simple.

H and Y have also been seen to vary their distance from the offensive tackles in Ace -- occasionally, they're in tight. This is probably adjusted with a simple "Tight" or "Open" addition to the formation name, but we don't know for certain ("Ace Tight" could also be considered "Deuce").

Sticking with 10 personnel, Coach Leach has two formations in "trips", where three receivers line up on the same side of the ball. Trips to the left is "Late", trips to the right is "Early". With football schemes it's easy to get overly complex in the verbiage, which some people like, but the best mantra is often "keep it simple, stupid." Word association is simple; "Late" sounds "L" and "Early" sounds "R", especially when you're yelling them repeatedly.





Again we see that "Rip" will move Y off the ball and Z on.

Early Rip


The running back will be on the right or left of the quarterback in shotgun, depending on the defensive front or route called. He is free to move to either side based on need, rather than set by a formation. His position in all of these one-back diagrams should be considered arbitrary -- we've seen him to both sides.

We've only witnessed two formations using 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE), neither of which we've been able to label, but they are based on a Wing T type formation.



Both of these formations were only shown with the receivers to the left and had Andrei Lintz at Y.

Colors are used for 20 personnel formations (2 RB, 0 TE). We aren't positive on this nomenclature, but do know "Blue" and "Green" are the colors used for two back sets. These are our best guesses, again based on word association (bLue, gReen).

Blue (left)


Green (right)


"Green Rip" has also been used a lot, and we've seen Blue with H on the line and X off (similar manipulation to "Rip" but it probably has its own modifier). The receivers to the right are always Y and Z, and the receivers to the left are X and H (from what we've seen and understood based on player positions).

We are also unsure which letter is assigned the other RB (typically it's "H", but that would mean a different letter would be necessary when in Blue), or if it matters which RB is on the left or right of the quarterback in any given two-back formation.

Pistol was used sparingly in the beginning of the season and appeared less frequently as the season progressed. We didn't see it at all in the Apple Cup. We don't know what these formations are called, but they are similar to Blue and Green. We would guess either "Blue" and "Green" are given a Pistol set modifier, or these formations could have their own color names. In Pistol, one RB moves directly behind the QB and the other moves up to even depth (either side)

Example - Pistol


Motion is occasionally used. "Move" motions a player across the formation, "Fly" motions the player in and "Orbit" motions the player in, then back out. The player position is identified in the motion call.

The most common use of motion we saw from WSU toward the end of the season was an "F Move" (in both Blue and Green).

Blue F Move


Where the play was typically a swing pass to the motioning running back with the two receivers blocking out front. This play was heavily utilized in the game against UCLA.

These are most of the Wazzu base offensive formations you will see during a game. Others, like goaline heavy sets (2 RB, 2 TE) were seen once and there are likely a few others in the WSU arsenal we didn't cover. Hopefully you're now equipped to identify around 80 percent of the formations the Cougs will set up in.