This is the latest installment in our series of stories previewing the 2020 Washington State Cougars football season. For other installments, click here.
These last two months or so have felt like being the kid who got recess detention; while all the other kids get to go out and play when the bell rings, we’re stuck inside watching all the fun through the window. But finally our wait is just about over and we can join the party on the playground, even if it’s for only about half of the usual recess time we typically get.
All right, enough of the metaphors, Cougar Football is back! We’ll finish our look at the new Washington State Cougars offense with some concepts we’ll see that aren’t necessarily Run and Shoot principles. That’s a bit of a departure from previous seasons in some ways. Mike Leach ran a very pure version of the Air Raid, with just a handful of wrinkles sprinkled in from year to year. Nick Rolovich seems to be a bit more open to augmenting the Run and Shoot with pieces that complement the base schemes of the offense. Some of them are even taken from Leach himself by way of some Air Raid staples. Yep, “Everybody Air Raids” will never die.
As part of our preview for the season, we’ll look at the Snag concept, a handful of screens, and a quick glance at some Run-Pass Option that Rolovich has built into the Run and Shoot.
Snag is a very popular passing concept at all levels of football, and has become a staple for just about every offensive system that throws the ball with any regularity. Part of its ubiquity is directly related to its flexibility, as there a few different ways an offense can vary the combination of routes. The other reason it is so prevalent is because it works. It’s a pretty difficult route combination to defend, and it does well against either man or zone.
The basic premise behind Snag is that the offense is going to have three receivers on one side of the field create a triangle that puts a vertical and horizontal stress on defenders in that area. To create that triangle, there is an in-breaking route, an out-breaking route, and a vertical stretch route. The outside receiver (or middle slot, in some cases) will run some sort of route towards the middle of the field, anything from a drag aiming at about 4-6 yards upfield, a slant, or kind of a reverse bubble where he comes up underneath the inside receiver(s). One of the two interior receivers will run some sort of sideline route. It could look very similar to Mesh, just isolated outside the hashes on that particular side. It could be a simple bubble route. More often than not, Hawai’i has shown the Mesh look, so that’s the combination that I would expect to see. Regardless of the combination, the point is to put a horizontal stress on the first-level defenders in the defensive backfield. If the receivers read zone, they have the option to settle into the gaps in the zone, or if it’s man they will continue the route and run through. Again, that should remind us all of the options built into Mesh that we’ve seen for forever.
The vertical is usually a corner route, but it can also be a go or a deep stick or comeback route as well. Anything that pushes the point of the triangle upfield and opens up space for the crossing underneath receivers is the preferable outcome. Which receiver runs the vertical can be adjusted as well. In most cases the middle slot or the inside slot will have the stretch, but the outside receiver will very occasionally run it as well. Snag can also be run out of the 2x2 set, using the running back as the third receiver, running the out-breaking route in that case, usually in the form of a Shoot route to the boundary. I wouldn’t anticipate that happening too often, as running backs in the Run and Shoot see very few opportunities to catch the ball out of the backfield.
Hawai’i ran Snag a lot over the previous two seasons, and I don’t think that will change now that Rolovich has brought the Run and Shoot to the Palouse. Here are a few examples of Snag from the Warriors.
You can see Rolo likes it in the red zone.
Next up we’ll take a look at some of the Run and Shoot’s screen game. I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time breaking down the ins and outs of these screens in particular, since they should be very familiar to anyone who has watched Wazzu since 2012. And in some cases they’ve already made appearances in previous installments of Coach’s Corner. So to the clips we go.
First up, the outside screen, known in Air Raid parlance as Rita/Lisa.
Next up is basically the same screen to the slot receiver, which we started to see WSU use over the last two or three seasons. Not coincidentally, I believe, with the addition of athletes like Jamire Calvin, Renard Bell, and Travell Harris.
And then of course, the fan favorite Mike Leach Water Bottle Flip Play, aka the Shovel. One little wrinkle here is that Rolovich will actually have his QB take a slight roll out to open up the defensive end’s path a little bit, changing the angle of attack.
Lastly, let’s look at some RPO pieces that Rolovich has added into the Run and Shoot. Again, I’m not going to delve into the nitty-gritty details with the RPO looks because the basic concept has been covered before in this space. But I did want to mention why I think it fits much better in the Run and Shoot than it would have with the Air Raid, which also highlights the major difference between the two offenses.
RPO plays generally try to isolate one defender and put him in a no-win situation. Whatever he chooses is wrong. If he fills his run gap, the QB yanks the ball out and throws it to the receiver filling the vacated space. If he hesitates and/or drops into his pass responsibility, then the run is coming.
The Air Raid doesn’t really care what the defense does. It’s more about reading grass and anticipating where the open spot on the field will be. It doesn’t make a whole lot of difference to an Air Raid QB whether a linebacker drops to his pass zone or not. Either there’s space there or there isn’t. However, giving the defender an ogre’s choice is exactly what the Run and Shoot tries to do in the passing game. Whatever the defender decides to do is wrong, and the QB and receivers read those choices and react accordingly. So while the RPO aspect isn’t necessarily beneficial to the Air Raid, it fits in with the core ideals of the scheme of the Run and Shoot.
Inside Zone paired with Levels:
Inside Zone paired with Streak X-Slant (maybe).
Go, Streak, Divide, Levels, X-Choice, Snag, the screen game, and some RPO thrown in for good measure. Over the summer and fall, we had a crash course in the Run and Shoot and here’s hoping you can recognize some of the elements you see on Saturday night.
The hay, at long last, is in the barn.