It’s no secret that the Air Raid is at its best when it can run the ball. An Air Raid offense doesn’t need to run the ball forty times in a game to be successful - although that certainly doesn’t hurt - but it does need to be efficient. Conventional football wisdom dictates that you establish the running game to allow your passing game to exploit windows created by defenders over-committing to the run. Essentially, the run is your bread and butter, and you use the pass to get over the top for big plays. The Air Raid flips that paradigm, placing the emphasis on the pass while using the run to gash defenders in the box who are over-committing to their pass rush and/or zone drops without honoring the run threat first.
The best way to gash the defense is by having talented running backs, and Washington State is lucky enough to have four currently on the roster. Let’s take a look at the formation that allows the Cougs to maximize the amount of running back talent on the field: the A-Frame.
WSU Offensive Formation
30 Personnel - A-Frame
The Cougs will also go under center in this formation, but they are in the usual shotgun look here. One of the benefits of this formation is that it balances up the defense and threatens both left and right, forcing the defense to honor both sides. One of the drawbacks to running the ball out of the Cougs’ typical Ace/Early/Late look is that it only threatens the playside half of the defense. Except for one play in each bowl game apparently when our quarterback goes all Oregon and pulls the zone read.
Washington and Colorado were both strong against our run game partly because they sent an extra defender to the playside, usually a blitz from the slot, knowing that there’s only one direction the running back is going to threaten. The A-Frame mitigates that by showing a potential run threat to each side.
Wyoming Defensive Front
Nickel Personnel - 42 Base Cover 2 Shell
There are a couple obvious advantages that Wyoming gives away by formation. First, with two deep safeties fifteen yards off the line of scrimmage, the WSU offense has a numbers advantage in the box, especially since Wyoming also kept their nickelback on the field and lined up over a ghost slot receiver.
Second, because Wyoming has an overhang defender - the aforementioned nickelback - they are weak to the offense’s left side. They are going to rely on the 7-tech defensive end to hold the edge against either a zone cutback or a lead play directly at him. WSU ends up doing something of a combination of both.
By comparison, WSU lines up in the A-Frame again on the next play, and Wyoming balances their defense to match.
That nickelback looks like he has been replaced by a linebacker and/or has moved inside to mirror the extra running back.
At the Snap
The offensive line shows outside zone right, and they show it hard. The zone action takes care of the defensive line, as they slide to their run fits, taking them away from the intended path of Harrington. It also influences the two linebackers, causing them to scrape to their left. As fast as Harrington is, that is enough to take them out of the play.
The only box defender left is the defensive end who has backside responsibility. He squeezes down and Harrington uses his speed to outrun him around the edge.
Jamal Morrow is Harrington’s lead blocker in what amounts to an old-school off-tackle power lead play. Because the outside linebackers were influenced by the zone look and scraped towards the top of the screen, Morrow is able to pass over the second level block and get into the secondary, blocking the deep safety to the run side.
Why the Play Was Successful
Tendencies and catching the defense in the wrong personnel grouping. The overwhelming majority of the time, when the Coug offensive line shows zone blocking one way, the play will be a zone run in that direction. There isn’t a whole lot of subtlety to what the Washington State run game does. It’s the sneaky right hook to the chin after the flurry of jabs that is the passing game. You know it’s coming eventually, but it’s designed to catch you off guard.
In this particular case, the A-Frame gives us a relatively rare misdirection play. The offensive line (as well as Gerard Wicks and Luke Falk carrying out a zone play fake after handing the ball to Harrington) gives every indication that the play is going to be zone to the right. Wyoming believes it, and flows hard to zone side. Harrington shoots out the back door, behind Morrow’s lead, and behind a textbook block from Dom Williams on the corner.
As a receivers coach by trade, this is a joy for me to watch. Dom slow rolls the block, engaging only when the corner starts to come forward to attack the running back. He lets the corner go where he wants to, then turns and seals the corner on the sideline, giving Harrington the inside lane. Perfect execution.
Going forward, I would like to see a few more wrinkles out of the A-Frame. Off the top of my head, I’m fairly certain the Cougs have run the ball every time out of it, and have run some sort of zone play (the Falk scramble at CU is the exception to this, but I’m not certain whether that was a called draw or just a broken play that Falk made something out of). A little bit more variance is needed as teams adjust to seeing it on film and scheme for it, even it’s something as simple as motioning a back out of the backfield and turning it into Blue/Green.
Bowl games give coaches a lot of down time to draw things up in the dirt. I know I will be curious to see what, if any, wrinkles Leach and company add in to the repertoire, and I hope to see something different out of the A-Frame.