Back in November, Mike Leach tweeted something that received a great deal of attention from the media, from Cougar Nation, and from various corners of the sports world. You can relax; it wasn’t one of those tweets. In fact, it was one that offered a potential glimpse into the inner workings of the mind of the Mad Scientist himself.
Hey WSU students, I’m thinking about teaching an evening seminar class next semester w my friend Senator Baumgartner. “Leadership Lessons in Insurgent Warfare & Football Strategy.” Would meet once a week for about 6 weeks. Would this be of interest?— Mike Leach (@Coach_Leach) November 28, 2018
Yeah, Coach, I think you got a little bit of interest in this one.
The seminar ended up being an all-around success, drawing guest speakers from both the ranks of the military as well as former Cougar greats like Mark Rypien and Connor Halliday. Gardner Minshew even got in on the action, both as a student and a presenter. One of the assignments during the class was to create a seven page presentation on counterinsurgency startegies, and also design three offensive plays that could be used to beat the University of Houston this September.
That last part is something that likely has a wide appeal. If you’re a football fan, you’ve probably drawn up a play in the dirt on the playground, or scribbled something down on a napkin, or dedicated an entire composition notebook to your brilliant new offensive scheme that has potentially four different offensive personnel playing “quarterback”.
What? That last one was just me? Oh. Well.
Since they were submitted assignments, I figure we break out the red pen and grade a selection of them. Grade the plays of course, not the presentations on military strategies. We’ve all had enough PowerPoint in our lives.
I’ll be grading the plays on a few different categories:
- Functionality - Is it a viable football play? Will it stress a defense? Can we see a major college football team actually running this play in a game?
- Air Raid Compatibility - How Air Raid-y is this play? Would this be a play that Mike Leach would consider calling on the field?
- Creativity - How much fun would it be to run this play/call this play/see this play on the field? Is it a new concept, or a new spin on an existing concept?
Play #1 submitted by: Austin Anderson, Gabe Arguinchona, Riley Hougan, David Windsor, and Nick Zieglemann
The law offices of Anderson, Arguinchona, Hougan, Windsor, and Ziegelmann submitted this one, and hoo boy there’s a lot to unpack here.
- Functionality - This is like ... seven different plays blended into one. Individually, all of these little wrinkles are nice, but put them all together and it’s a lot for a quarterback to process. The first look is the shovel pass back to the Z, but I don’t know how the quarterback is supposed to read that when his back will be to the space he’s looking for. The H is dragging across the back of the end zone, but that’s asking the QB to roll right and throw back to the middle of the field. That’s usually a recipe for disaster. The last read is the pitch, but that’s a lot of action before you get to it, and I don’t know if there’s enough room to the sideline for all that. On top of all that, I don’t even know how you would begin to approach this play in terms of teaching it. Grade: D+
- Air Raid Compatibility - This is essentially an RPO type of play, albeit much more complicated. That’s not really something we see too much in the pure Air Raid scheme Leach runs. Neither is rolling the QB or the F lining up in the Pistol or running a speed option. It’s hard to see this one happening. Grade: D-
- Creativity - All that being said, I’m willing to admit that I might just be behind the times with this new style of offense. Maybe multiple blind reads are the way of the future in football. It is certainly a unique blend of several different concepts, and that’s how we’ve gotten some new offensive schemes in recent years. And, of course, it would be wild to see it on the field. Grade: A-
Play #2 submitted by: James Dalton, Zach McBride, and Kellan Sullivan
First things first, full marks on the nomenclature. Full Right Rip Rolo sounds completely legit. Second, props on the individual player responsibility breakdowns. That’s graduate level work right there.
- Functionality - This is a great little play, particularly for a goal line play or a two-point conversion. There are a couple of natural rubs built in between the H and the Y as well as the H and the Z. Pick (it’s definitely a pick) plays are brutal when you’re on the goal line. Most teams will play a man concept down there, so running receivers through each other’s spaces creates a lot of headaches for defenders. The notes say to run it to the short side of the field, but I would disagree with that. More space for the three receivers flooding the playside seems like the better option. I would have the QB rolling to the field as well, giving him a run/pass option, and running away from the likely blitz coming from the single receiver side. Grade: A-
- Air Raid Compatibility - Not so much. It kind of flies in the face of the basic concept of the Air Raid: spread the field and stretch the defense. However, Leach has thrown some pre-shift junk formations out on the field, and very occasionally has run a play out of them without shifting to a traditional look. This could fit in that mold. Grade: C
- Creativity - The formation is reminiscent of the Notre Dame Box, which I’m all for bringing back to the limelight. The play is a version of the Smash concept, just with a rub thrown in from the outside receiver. Blending old concepts with new ones is super fun, but there isn’t a whole lot of originality here. Grade: B-
Play #3 submitted by: Ron Gutterman, Logan Prock, Matt Sullivan, and Bo Charlton
These guys submitted plays that were all named after WSU QBs. This play, the Jack Thompson Time Bomb, is the best of the bunch.
- Functionality - This one is pretty solid all around. You have one of the running backs shifting out wide to potentially create a mismatch for the tight end, and also to create some space for the crossing wide receiver. The play action (I’m assuming) should draw the linebackers up and afford the tight end and wide receiver a bit more freedom through the middle. I think calling it the “Time Bomb” means we’re throwing it deep to the halfback split wide, which is fine if it’s a linebacker that goes to cover him out there. It’s less good if we have a corner matched up with him. But otherwise, this is pretty solid all around. Grade: B+
- Air Raid Compatibility - It’s Mesh, right? The running back coming through the middle can mess up the zone fits of the meshers, so we’re more likely to see a check-release there. You also don’t see too many instances where a back splits out wide, and James Williams was pretty much the exception that proved that rule. The thought process is that if you want somebody out there catching passes, put your guys out there that are the best at catching passes. Also wtf is a tight end lol. Grade: B
- Creativity - Everybody Air Raids™, so this concept is pretty prevalent at all levels of football. We’ve even seen the squatter in the middle of the mesh point, although it’s usually a tight end or third wide receiver that ends up in that spot. Pass catching backs that start in the backfield then split out wide is very common as well, particularly in the NFL. So there’s really nothing unique about this play. Grade: D
Play #4 submitted by: James Dalton, Zach McBride, and Kellan Sullivan
I would not be surprised to learn that these guys had experience coaching football at some level. Very clean work, the concepts are neatly executed, and you can see elements that would track to a full offensive scheme, not just individual plays.
- Functionality - A lot of things to like here, but there are some details that concern me a little, particularly with the defensive ends. On the left side, they want the tackle to “kick and take [the] end with [him].” It would probably be safer if the tackle just sealed the end and forced him outside. If he beats the tackle inside, this play is dead on arrival. Similarly, with the right tackle pulling across formation, if the defensive end gets in his hip pocket, he’s going to be in the play. I don’t think the Y’s split will change that, despite what the note says. If I’m drawing this up, I may have the F come through and cut that end, which should slow the end down enough that the Y can run away from him. Handoffs by non-quarterbacks can give OCs an ulcer, but rep it enough and it should be doable. Grade: B+
- Air Raid Compatibility - This type of misdirection play isn’t something that we see a whole lot of in Mike Leach’s offense. The offense isn’t predicated on trying to deceive the defense; the goal is simply to exploit the natural gaps opened up by the routes and splits of the line. But this play does remind me of one we saw Kyrin Priester run on a few occasions back in 2015. Out of an empty set, Priester would line up tight to the line. At the snap, he would run across formation, behind the OL, and take a quick flip from Falk who was rolling to Priester’s side. We haven’t run that play since 2015, but it does have some similarities to Yankee Cross here. A double handoff is a bit of a different animal though. Grade: C-
- Creativity - There’s a high school in our conference here in North Carolina that runs this very play, albeit out of a formation that’s closer to the Wing-T that is their base offense. But it is absolutely devastating when they catch you with it. The second exchange happens so quickly that it’s difficult to pick up on from the sideline, let alone having to find the slotback behind the big uglies. It’s a helluva play when executed. Grade: C+
Play #5 submitted by: Nick Ziegelmann and Riley Hougan
Apparently a couple of the partners of the law office, Ziegelmann & Hougan, went rogue and submitted a package of plays that was predicated around defensive players playing on offense and I am here for all of it. This particular play has 300-pound defensive tackle Lamonte McDougle lined up in the slot and that would indeed be the best day ever.
- Functionality - Sure, yeah, this looks fine. I don’t know how well sticks by both the slots are going to do against man coverage, but the slant-post behind it on the left side can be a thing. Turn the sticks into option routes and you’re probably finding some open grass there. Plus you might be able to get McDougle to box out a smaller safety/linebacker. Just gotta hope the big man has some hands. Grade: C+
- Air Raid Compatibility - It’s pretty close to 91. Just flip the inside and outside routes and that’s what you have. Grade: B+
- Creativity - BIG MAN CATCHING TOUCHDOWNS THE DEFENSE RESTS. Grade: A