In the article that I wrote for the 2017 Preview here on CougCenter, I said something along the lines of “There has been something new added to the offense every season, and we’re sure to see another new wrinkle at some point this year.” Through three games, that statement has proved to be false. The WSU offense, to my knowledge, has not run a single play that we haven’t already seen at some point in the last five-plus seasons. I would not be the slightest bit surprised to learn that these new wrinkles exist, and that they’re being held back for conference foes that aren’t Luke Falk’s personal whipping boys. However, it is a little strange to think that the coaches would have spent all spring and summer putting something in just to leave it in the garage for a full month.
Taking that into consideration, we’re going to jump into the realm of conjecture this week, looking at a play that I really like and that could potentially fit seamlessly into the Air Raid. Mostly because we would throw it to Jamire Calvin a lot and I really want Calvin to have the ball in his hands as much as possible. But more on that in a bit.
If you’re familiar with Mike Leach and the Air Raid, you’re probably familiar with Graham Harrell. He was, arguably, Leach’s best quarterback at Texas Tech, and possibly the best quarterback Leach has had as a coach. He spent a couple years on the Palouse as the outside receivers coach before taking the Offensive Coordinator and QB coach position at the University of North Texas in 2016. Not surprisingly, UNT runs the Air Raid. And it was watching UNT’s game against SMU from a couple weeks ago* that I saw a play that looked awfully familiar to something we already run, and something that we could easily implement right away.
*Is watching UNT-SMU on purpose when you should start to worry about the amount of football you watch? I feel like there’s a line and I’m getting close. Whatever, shut up, I’m fine, UMass is driving.
UNT Offensive Formation: Late F-Move
Pretty standard Air Raid fare here. Trips to the left, with the F going in fast motion to the sideline.
The Play: Inside Slot Screen (Sarah/Sally?)
This is almost exactly the same as the Air Raid staple outside receiver screen, Randy/Larry, the obvious difference being the inside receiver is the target instead of the outside. Other than that, the blocking scheme is virtually the same, and the overall concept is the same. Even the footwork of the targeted receiver is a carbon copy.
The back’s motion holds the flat defender, pulling his eyes away from the slot receiver. It also slides the playside linebacker a few steps wider, setting up some of the blocks from the offensive linemen. The two tackles will essentially pass block, while the other three linemen will show pass, then release upfield to chase down linebackers and safeties. The receivers all block man up or first threat.
The slot receiver—H in this case—takes a couple steps upfield, then works his way back to the middle of the field and the line of scrimmage, getting underneath the blocks of the releasing offensive linemen. Just as the outside receiver would do on Randy/Larry. Catch the ball, find space, run fast.
I mean we probably don’t even need to practice this; it’s so similar to what we already do. Just tell the H/Y to do the screen action, the X/Z to go block, dust your hands and cue the fight song. And the best part is, we actually have some inside receivers for whom this play has the potential to be absolutely devastating. Can’t you picture Renard Bell and/or Jamire Calvin slicing through defenses with this? I sure can.
Speaking of Jamire Calvin, let’s talk about Jamire Calvin for a minute.
I’m super high on Jamire Calvin. He’s already shown a knack for getting open on the inside, even if Falk doesn’t always see him. On one of the approximately seventeen touchdown passes Falk threw last Saturday, Calvin was hopping up and down as he was running across the field wide open. It looks like it’s going to take a little more time for Falk and Calvin to get a feel for each other, but it’s coming. And Calvin is talented. Recruiting rankings and their subjectivity aside, you don’t step onto a Pac-12 field as a true freshman unless you can play some football, especially at receiver in the Air Raid. I’m excited to see him break through, and I get the feeling it’s coming sooner rather than later.
Despite the fact that they play different positions in the Air Raid, Calvin’s raw ability reminds me of Gabe Marks. You remember him, right? He’s only the GOAT, and he did stuff like this:
... and this:
... and this:
Calvin’s a little bit smaller than Marks was as a freshman, but he already seems to have a similar set of sticky hands. That catch against Cal that Marks made in the last clip? Calvin made a very similar catch on Saturday against Oregon State. No tape on that game yet, so you’ll have to take my word for it. Calvin extended his body to his left almost parallel to the ground and snared a ball from Falk. The catch didn’t get a lot of fanfare because it was only for a handful of yards, but it was impressive nonetheless and it immediately gave me flashbacks to the Marks catch.
Marks was also sneaky good at running Randy. He was never known as a burner, but in coaching parlance, he was always “fast enough”. He ran away from defenders more often than they ran him down. Calvin is a step or two faster than Marks, so give him the same play from the slot and fun things are bound to happen. And, since the bubble screen has seemingly been removed from the playbook, having another way to get the ball in the hands of your playmakers on the inside could hardly be a bad thing. The slot screen could do exactly that.
Against Oregon State, Coach Leach explicitly told Luke Falk to get the ball to his outside receivers. Tavares Martin Jr. and Isaiah Johnson-Mack responded with a monster game. Is it the inside receivers’ turn this week against Nevada? If it is, this might be the day that Calvin—or Renard Bell—breaks through for a big game.