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Coach’s Corner: A Quick Look at NMSU’s Air Raid

The ball is going to be in the air a whole lot on Saturday night

NCAA Football: New Mexico State at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Game Week, y’all! We’re just going to take a brief glimpse at the offense New Mexico State is going to bring to the Palouse. For yours truly, it’s the first week of school—at a new-ish school, at that—and we’re playing two games this week because the weather in eastern North Carolina is less predictable than a Mike Leach press conference. In other words, this week has been a smidge busy.

The good news: NMSU is enlightened! Hal Mumme made a stop in Las Cruces between 2005 and 2008 and, unsurprisingly, led the nation in passing offense in 2007. While there is no direct overlap between his tenure and that of current head coach Doug Martin, the Air Raid lives on for the Aggies. That makes scouting them quite a bit easier, as the passing concepts are virtually identical to those we use. There are, of course, a handful of differences in the Aggie version of the Air Raid, so we’ll take a look at that. But if on Saturday you find yourself thinking Hey, that kind of looks like something we do, chances are you’re right.

The bad news: NMSU Air Raids. This game might go five hours. Welcome back, #TeamNoSleep.

Passing Game

New Mexico State really liked their Empty sets. The Cougs dabbled with it last year so it’s not unfamiliar to us, but I would wager, based on the games I saw, NMSU snapped the ball with five wides somewhere around fifteen percent of the time. They also liked to motion into and out of their Empty formations. Which makes sense if you Air Raid, since you expect your running back to be as much a receiver as a runner. In terms of passing concepts, they played all the hits. Mesh, Four Verts, Sail, and Cross all made appearances. It looked like they sprinkled in a few run-and-shoot concepts from time to time as well. They get a lot of mileage out of Mesh and Shallow concepts, and that seemed to be where their bread was buttered last year.


Just a basic Shallow play here. Shallow cross with a dig coming from the other direction, a vertical on the outside at the top of the screen, and then a tagged corner/outside vertical based on alignment to the offense’s right. The fifth receiver fills the usual role of the F and swings toward the bottom of the screen. I think Coach Leach would have told the NMSU quarterback to throw the shallow here and let him try to make a play for the first down, because he’s a lot more open than the dig. At the very least, make it 4th and short.


Here’s Mesh out of the Empty. It looks a little weird to my eyes because there’s no flat threat. Generally on the playside in Mesh, you have a three way read from the flat to the mesh to the corner. But here, NMSU kind of combines Mesh with an H-Cross concept. There’s a lot of vertical stretch in this play, and it attacks the secondary on three levels, but there isn’t a route to pull a defender horizontally and away from the Mesh. I like it and I don’t like it.

Running Game

The Aggies vary their run game a bit more than the Cougs do. Quarterback draws out of Empty, an occasional zone read, and speed option are thrown out there. One example of a little wrinkle is the Zone Toss.

It’s still just outside zone, nothing fancy. The difference is that it’s being run to the back’s side. Most of the time—virtually every time for the WSU offense—that running back is going to cross the QB’s face to take the handoff. So this gives NMSU the opportunity to run away from the defense’s strength if they’re expecting the usual inside or outside zone across formation.

Of course, all of this assumes that New Mexico State is running the same offense as in the past. It’s the same head coach and they’re only a year removed from their first bowl appearance in 57 years, so I imagine they won’t go too far away from the relative success they’ve had recently. Mirror matches can be a little tricky sometimes, but the good news is that the Cougar defense should be very familiar with the route combinations and concepts that the Aggies will deploy on Saturday night. Now it’s just down to execution.