Ladies and gentleman, welcome to our summer pastime: breaking down the new offense led by Seth Littrell. Today: The Y-Stick.
For the past five seasons, Mean Green football fans have been witness to a pro-style offense. To the chagrin of many, North Texas played a conservative style that sets up the passing offense with the run game. It can be an effective play style with great running backs, a good o-line, a good quarterback, and most importantly, smart play calling. I am a fan of the bruising style because it establishes a gritty team mindset and grab the attention of pro scouts. Unfortunately for North Texas, we are not in the Big Ten, and did not have the proper personnel and play calling versus Conference USA competition (or any competition).
But the past is in the past. As the dust settled on the new coaching hires, the new scheme is clear: Air Raid. Well, Air Raid-inspired. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t terribly familiar with the offensive concepts of the Air Raid. After doing some reading and watching the Spring game, I found that underlying philosophy is simple and exciting.
We won’t go into the history and evolution of the Air Raid, from Lavell Edwards to Hal Mumme and Mike Leach. There’s plenty of that out there. Ahem What we will do is introduce a few concepts and plays central to the Air Raid over a few posts. We will then see some examples of how Littrell and Harrell executed the offense during the Spring game. (The GIFs used in these series were taken from the Spring game highlights here).
Concepts and plays in the Air Raid are meant to strain the defense horizontally and vertically. They are meant to move the chains quickly, and create opportunities for mismatches. The same play can be used to attack the pass defense underneath, down the seam, or outside the numbers. That same play can then be packaged in a run option, or a draw. We will see exactly that with the Y-stick. You might see it elsewhere as ‘stick’ or some variation. The concept is the same.
Here is a play that has many different iterations and formations. The Y-stick is a field stretcher, both downfield and across. North Texas lines it up in a 10 personnel shotgun set, with the back on either the strong side or the weak side. For those keeping track, the receivers are lined in a trips open formation, with the X receiver isolated on one side, and the Y, H, and Z receivers opposite. The Y receiver is on the line of scrimmage, while the H and Z receivers are off.
The QB takes anywhere from a one to three step drop, depending on the play. The first read is on the Y receiver, who runs a stick route 5 yards downfield. The Z receiver runs a fade route with an outside release, taking a defender vertically away from the Y receiver. The H receiver runs an out route, taking another defender horizontally away from the Y receiver. This gives enough room for the Y receiver to break away from man coverage or find a soft spot in the zone. Sometimes, the halfback can release on a wheel route, or straight up the field.
In the following play, the Mean Green are lined up in a trips left formation, with the halfback on the strong side. The Y receiver is covered up by the linebacker who is sitting flat footed on the route, eyeing the run. Tee Goree is left 1-on-1 and open immediately, and Morris hits the fade for a touchdown. A great outside route runner like Goree will take advantage of 1-on-1 matchups like this.
On this play, the halfback is lined up on the weak side, and the Y receiver is covered in man coverage. He is able to break open outside after he sticks his route, but by then the ball is in the air for the Z fade route. The Z receiver is in a 1-on-1 matchup, and is allowed to make a play on the ball.
What is interesting about this concept is that it can be packaged into run plays. By the time this next play happens, the defense has seen this formation a few times. The halfback is on the strong side, and Shanbour reads the defense for a handoff. In the meantime, the three receivers on the right eat up four defenders. The offensive line opens up a hole for the halfback for what essentially becomes a 0-on-1 matchup. He gets a decent gainer, but the halfback is probably kicking himself for not baiting the defender outside, and then taking the middle lane.
In this next packaged play, the halfback is on the weak side. The three receivers on the right again take up four defenders, with the attention of a fifth. The X receiver takes two defenders with him. This leaves one linebacker as the only defender in the second level. Shanbour takes a one step drop while the half back and right guard release for the draw play. The right guard blocks the lonely linebacker, and Shanbour easily goes in for the touchdown.
As we will see with a lot of Air Raid plays, in one simple play we see a decidedly fun and subtly complex set up. The QB has one read, which he must do quickly. The receivers stretch the field both horizontally and vertically, creating at least one 1-on-1 match up. It can be packaged with option and draw plays, leaving the runners with decent matchups once they get to the second level.
While the Y-stick is designed for moving the chains on high percentage throws underneath, I have a feeling the outside receivers are going to have a lot of fun with this play because Seth Littrell comes from the Leach branch of Air Raid which likes the downfield stuff. Slowly, we are starting to see the Air Raid vision come together, and will make for at least a fun season in 2016.