The essence of the Air Raid, and even this version of it, is ball-control. Instead of putting the fate of the offense in one running back, or one deep-post route, this offense makes the opposition defend horizontally and vertically. At best you get something like the best Oklahoma, Texas Tech teams of the last two decades. At worst you get NT 2016.
Seth Littrell apprenticed under Mike Leach, and various other incarnations of the Air Raid at his stops. Graham Harrell was the face of Peak Leach in Lubbock. They combined to produce a woeful offense last season.
The other major tenet of the system is execution-through-repetition. The route combinations are well-known by now, but the superior execution by an offense perfectly tuned can find the cracks in a defense. Given the new faces and new roles, the imperfect execution was evident.
It is easy to blame the offensive staff for the failings of the offense — I mean, of course. We have to consider the circumstances they inherited. The offensive line was shallow, and ill-prepared to do the kinds of things they wanted to do. This limited nearly everything, and a limited offense is an easily stopped one.
If you looked beyond the abysmal numbers, you saw a team finding its way throughout the year and improving into something like a wide-open, score-happy team. Alec Morris stood tall and found receivers who made plays in the open field. Jeff Wilson found daylight and abused defenders. It was fun to watch on that bright, sunny day in Dallas. That these plays were near the end of the year, after a seasons’ worth of repetitions and a handful of extra bowl practices, was no coincidence.
Along the way there were some extremely ugly plays. The road to perfection is paved with many mistakes, after all. Harrell seemed to get a feel for his role as the season progressed, dialing up some aggressive and interesting plays that were not quite executed perfectly. We saw Harrell adapt to the roster and the competition, as expected, allowing Jeff Wilson to get touches in both the pass and the run games. He did well to manage the losses of Goree, the early disappointment of Smiley, the QB changes, and the line shuffling.
As the roster is molded to his liking, the execution should improve. It is difficult to measure anything more subtler than “Are They Scoring?” but it is possible.
What is the upper limit here? I do not think Harrell and company can slice up the very best defenses this conference has to offer, but there aren’t many great defenses to deal with. He and his charges should be able to score enough to win and that is the goal, after all. We should see improved QB play — let us say about five more passing TDs and five less INTs to start — and a few more playmakers being unleashed.
The QB position has more experience and less rust. Alec Morris was a senior, sure, but he was riding the bench for most of his time in Tuscaloosa. Returning starter Mason Fine has a season of fire under his belt as one of the most-sacked QBs in the nation. The line should show improvement, while the receivers are more talented. Jeff Wilson, barring injury, is one of the best backs in the conference. The raw materials are there for enough points to win games.
Graham Harrell – Offensive Coordinator
Tommy Mainord – Associate HC/Pass Game Coordinator/ Inside WRs
Joel Filani – Wide Receivers