Ladies and gentleman, welcome to another installment of our summer pastime: breaking down the new offense led by Seth Littrell. Today: The Y-Cross.
Mike Leach brought 4-wide sets to his Texas Tech games. He did not invent them, but he did incorporate four wide sets in what was previously a 2-back offense. The very excellent smartfootball.com has this to say about the evolution
The changes Leach made were not major, but they were important. While he kept the basic structure of the offense basically the same as what he and Mumme had used at Kentucky, he did make some changes, many of them necessitated by his increased use of a four-wide receiver set, rather than the two-back look they had used at Kentucky. These changes were: (1) wide linemen splits, (2) running some concepts through the left “inside receiver”, the “H” receiver, as well as through the “Y” receiver, and (3) the increased focus and adaptation of four verticals.
In this episode of Air Raid concepts, we will discuss a classic Air Raid play: The Y-Cross. The version we saw in the spring game is a 2×1 receiver, 2-back set. For reference, this 20 personnel set is also called “Color Set” in Leach-speak. Like many Air Raid plays, it strains the defense at multiple levels. It’s a play that requires both the quarterback and receivers to be on the same page as they need to read the defense properly and quickly. (GIFs were generated from the North Texas Spring game here.)
The version that North Texas runs here is from a shotgun split look, with the Y receiver flexed away from the line and on the ball. This play gives the X and Y receivers the option to react to what the defense shows them. The following play art shows an evolved form of Leach’s Y-Cross, and similar to Littrell’s at North Texas (via bruceeien.com).
The X receiver is the first read, and is tasked to beat his corner on an outside release. If the corner is pressing, X has to either beat the pressing corner, or quickly eliminate the gap in soft coverage. About 10 yards upfield, X continues a fade route, or breaks into a skinny post if his corner has safety help. The QB has to identify the safety help as well, and should be ready to peek the route for an outside shoulder throw if X beats the press quickly.
The X’s route allows for quick, deep plays. But if that is not open, the Y receiver’s deep cross is another big play generator. As the second read, the Y receiver’s job is to find real estate during a deep crossing route. Against zone coverage, Y must release inside and split the strong side (Sam) and middle (Mike) linebackers by running under Sam and over Mike. After Y is over Mike, Y has the option to settle in the soft spot of the zone. He can also continue toward the corner to the next soft spot below the defensive backs, or continue toward the sideline.
But that’s not all folks. The Y receiver’s route can completely change with different defensive looks. During a blitz, the Y receiver has the option to flatten his route – essentially run a shallow cross – and look for the quick pass. Against man coverage, the Y receiver must first release inside and push vertically about 10-12 yards, to then break inside for what becomes a dig route. Whatever route the Y receiver decides to take is dictated by the defense, and he must find green space quickly.
The Z receiver’s route eases defensive pressure on both the Y and X receivers. This is the fourth read. With an inside release, Z pushes 10 yards downfield, and stems the route toward the post for 5 yards, and then finally digs. With the addition of this post dig route, this play begins to look like a weakside flood.
The backfield can include a number of combinations of split backs. In the Spring game, we see RBs, FBs, and H-backs being used. Each back’s assignment varies by the call. The strong side back, if not in pass protection, will release for a wheel route. The weak side back will look to pass protect, and can either run a swing route or a cut route between the center and guard.
In this first clip, the H-back releases for a wheel route, and the RB sees a three man rush, and releases for the swing route. The Y receiver settles under the Mike linebacker who drops back in coverage, as the Sam takes the flat and the Will linebacker stays put eyeing the swing pass. The corner gives the X receiver a 10-yard cushion, with single safety help. The nickelback drops into coverage under the X receiver. Shanbour looks off the safety, anticipates the skinny post and hits the X receiver. Darius Prater is even able to get a few yards after contact.
This time, both backs are in pass protection as the defense has 5 guys on the line of scrimmage showing blitz. The Y receiver settles into the gaping hole left by the blitzing linebackers. The X and Y receivers both eat up 5 (!) defenders as they roll coverage to the weak side. The Z receiver is left 1-on-1 against soft coverage, and runs a hitch route. Shanbour hits him outside, and Willie Robinson shakes his defender badly after the catch for a touchdown.
In this next clip, the defense has 5 guys on the line, with the nickelback lined up on the strong side, and a DB and Will linebacker blitz on the weak side. Both corners are playing soft coverage, with a single safety over the top. The fullback stays in pass protection, and the running back runs a cut route. The nickelback covers the X receiver, while the two remain linebackers eye the cut route in front of them. This leaves Kelvin Smith’s crossing route open behind the linebackers. I think Shanbour expected him to stop — which is a QB mistake as there was space in front of him — as the pass is a little behind, but Smith is able to snag it and scamper for a touchdown.
In these few plays, we see the explosive downfield potential of the Y-cross. The X receiver offers a quick vertical threat, while the Y receiver offers a dynamic playmaking outlet that exploits defensive decisions. Tit for tat, in a way. While his route takes a little longer to develop, the Z receiver can take pressure off X and Y, or is sometimes left 1-on-1 deep. The backs offer extra protection on the line, or extra options in the vacated areas of the field.
Editors note: This offense is designed to stretch the defense horizontally and vertically, but depending on the coach and especially the quarterback, we might see one or the other. For example, Johnny Manziel was instructed to read deep-to-short on a play that is often run more conservatively. It is important to mention this now, before any bad games and inevitable comparisons to the Todd Dodge-era dink-and-dunk criticisms.