To stave away the slow descent into madness that is the offseason, and hopefully inform any curious college football fans, I'm going to try to write a few pieces that break down the core plays of several popular college football offenses. I plan on trying to get a new piece out every two to three weeks and chose the Airraid to start with. The next offense will likely be a piece on the flexbone, although I am open to any and all recommendations.The Airraid is quickly becoming one of those terms, like pro style, that covers an umbrella of different, although related offensive structures. In it's core however it is a system based on passing the ball out of one and two back sets, with an emphasis on 3-5 step passes and screens. The Airraid evolved from the BYU splitback passing attack of the 1980's, which was itself derived from the west coast offense. For the early part of it's history much of the Airraid was run from the same two back set, just from the shotgun. Eventually the system spread out to include the single back, four wide set up we all know today.
The Drop Back Passes
To start to understand an Airraid offense we may as well begin with four verticals. To begin with the outside receivers run fades, they are not the primary targets on this play but they do occasionally get the ball. The two inside receivers run up the seam close to the hash marks, in essence forcing the free safety to choose to cover one of them, while settling in any open areas in the zone coverage they find. A Runningback (F in this case) is checking to see if any blitzes are coming, if no one is blitzing the back runs a "get open" route underneath. The back is taught to find some area that the Quarterback can get the ball to them on a check down. The Quarterback will be taking three steps back (five if under center) and reading the safety covering the deep third of the field, throwing to whichever inside receiver is ignored. One misconception about this play is that it is a hail mary type play, while it is a deeper pass the goal of the play is to throw the ball at between fifteen and eighteen yards to a receiver in the middle of the field.
The next play for understanding the Airraid is the mesh play. One this play the Z will run a route that threatens the deep coverage, however the goal is to get a relatively short throw and catch for an eight to ten yard gain. On the snap of the ball the Y and X receiver run rub routes, with the X receiver running underneath the y receiver, working a lot like a pick in basketball, with the Quarterback hitting a receiver with no one near him. If this fails both backs (or a back and a slot/tight end) release into the flats for a checkdown. The Quarterback takes three steps back, with his first read as a throw to the Z over the top, however if the team has the Z covered the Quarterback then reads the mesh, hitting the open receiver. If this fail the Quarterback throws to F in the slot, checks on the Y or X (still running in the middle of the defense) or hits H on the other side of the field.
The Y-cross is a favorite of Holgo's, particularly of of playaction. The goal of this play is to have Y run a route trying to get lost in the zone coverage, while X takes the top of the coverage, with H getting open underneath. Z is a threat if teams over pursue on the cross, however F will rarely get the ball, and is often just used on a playaction fake to set up the throw downfield. Once again the Quarterback will take a three step drop, the time reading X on a fade, then Y on a crossing route (this route can settle in any open areas in the coverage), and H in the flats. The goal is to create a triangle, stressing the defense in three different place, while being a relatively quick read on the Quarterback. If the triangle is covered then the Quarterback is going to check the throw to Z coming on a dig from the backside, or potentially F in the flats.
A final key dropback concept in the Airraid, and most passing offenses, is the flood concept. It is a pretty basic idea, in essence the goal is to put more receivers on one side of the field than the defense can match with zone coverage. The play starts with the Quarterback taking a 3 step drop and looking at Z on a fade, throwing on rhythm. If Z is not open the next read is Y on either a deep out or corner, depending on the position of the defender covering Y. Underneath this the F is releasing to the flats, giving the Quarterback a high low read on the defender who now has to cover both the Y and F. If the front side is covered the Quarterback throws X backside or H in the flats. This play is a favorite of Leach's from trips.
The goal of the dropback passing plays is to identify and defeat each of the individual coverages a defense can play. The Airraid has 2-3 answers for every coverage it faces, and the team has thrown those routes since the first day in camp. The plays themselves are not magic, but they are a well practiced and executed package that accounts for what the defense can throw at you.