Air raid offense

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In American football the air raid offense refers to an offensive scheme popularized by such coaches as Mike Leach, Hal Mumme, Sonny Dykes, and Tony Franklin during their tenures at Valdosta State, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Louisiana Tech, and Washington State.

The system is designed out of a shotgun formation with four wide receivers and one running back. The formations are a variation of the run and shoot offense with two outside receivers and two inside slot receivers. The offense also utilizes trips formations featuring three wide receivers on one side of the field and a lone single receiver on the other side.


The offense owes a lot to the influence of BYU Head Coach LaVell Edwards who utilized the splits and several key passing concepts during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s while coaching players such as Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco, and Ty Detmer. Mike Leach has made reference that he and Hal Mumme largely incorporated much of the BYU passing attack into what is now known as the Air Raid offense. Some of the concepts such as the Shallow Cross route have been incorporated into such offenses as the West Coast Offense during the early 1990s as well, prominently under Mike Shanahan while he was the head coach of the Denver Broncos.

The offense first made its appearance when Mumme & Leach took over at Iowa Wesleyan College and Valdosta State University and had success there during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The first exposure into Division 1A was at the University of Kentucky starting in 1997. There, Mumme and Leach helped turned highly touted QB Tim Couch into a star and later a 1st Round pick in the NFL Draft. Mike Leach would then coordinate the offense at the University of Oklahoma in 1999 to moderate success before landing the head coaching job at Texas Tech. Shortly into the early 2000s, assistant coaches started landing coaching jobs such as Chris Hatcher at Valdosta State, Art Briles (first at Houston then Baylor), and Kevin Sumlin (first at Houston then Texas A&M). Texas Tech Coach Kliff Kingsbury (Mike Leach's former quarterback at Texas Tech) runs the offense also.

Air raid system[edit]

The Scheme is notable for being very pass centric with as many as 65-75% of the calls during a season being a pass play. A large reason is due to the control that is placed on the QB who has the freedom to audible to any play based on what the defense is showing him at the line of scrimmage. In at least one instance, as a result of the QB's ability to audible, as many as 90%[1] of the run plays called in a season were audibled to at the line of scrimmage.

Another factor in this offense is the inclusion of the no huddle. The QB and the offense race up to the line of scrimmage, diagnose what the defense is showing, and then snap the ball based on the QB's play call. This not only allows a team to come back if they are down a lot as seen in the 2006 Insight Bowl[2] but it also allows them to tire out the defense and allow for bigger runs and bigger pass completions.

One important aspect is the split of the offensive linemen. Normally they are bunched together but in this offense, they are often split apart about a half to a full yard from another. While this allows easier blitz lanes in theory, it forces the defensive ends and defensive tackles to have to run further to reach the quarterback for a sack. The quick, short passes are then able to offset any Blitz that may come. Another advantage is that by forcing the defensive line to widen, it opens up more wide open passing lanes for the QB to throw the ball through without fear of having their pass knocked down or intercepted.

Core pass plays[edit]

The three biggest plays in the offensive scheme are what is known as the Shallow Cross, the Screen package, and the Mesh route. The Shallow Cross was originally invented by the coaches at BYU during the 1980s and partially updated by coaches such as Mike Shanahan for the West Coast Offense.

The Shallow Cross often involves the quarterback taking a quick three step drop and watches one of the inside receivers cross a yard or two behind the defensive linemen. The opposite inside receiver will often run a square in route with an option to button hook if there's an open area. The Mike Shanahan variations were a bit more complex and involved the opposite inside receiver running a corner post pattern. One of the biggest benefits of the Shallow Cross as a play is that it involves a speedy receiver who can get open across the field if being covered by a linebacker while forcing the field behind the linebackers to open up for the opposite inside receiver. If the safeties cover the second inside receiver, that then opens the deep field for the two outside receivers. This has become a staple of teams such as the New England Patriots in the National Football League.

The Wide Receiver screen pass involves the quarterback taking a quick one step drop and throwing to the receiver, who will catch the ball, then following the blockers ahead of him to get downfield. This play has started to become a staple in the National Football League. The main screens use are the Bubble Screen, where the inside WR catches the ball and heads outside as the outside WR blocks inside, and the WR Screen where their roles are inverted as the outside WR cuts inside and the inside WR blocks outside. Also a delayed screen to the RB is quite common.

The final play is what is called the Mesh route. It involves the two inside receivers "meshing" as they run their routes. Both inside receivers will run a shallow cross and force the defenders covering them to bump into the other or sidestep their teammate. This allows for one of the inside receivers to get separation while continuing their shallow crossing route. The biggest advantage of this play series is that one of the linebackers will often have to stop their coverage, allowing that inside receiver to then become open in an area that is uncovered.

Play names

  • Y Cross: Entails the Y/Slot Receiver (in 2 RB Sets) or an Inside Receiver (in 3-4 WR Sets) to run a crossing pattern over the middle of the field. This generally involves forcing the defense to put an outside linebacker or middle linebacker to defend the slot receiver who is often much faster and able to get separation through their speed, making for an easy pass from the quarterback.
  • Y Sail: Involves the Y/Slot Receiver (in 2 RB Sets) or an Inside Receiver (in 3-4 WR Sets) to run what is called a Sail, generally running north and cutting sharply at an angle away from the middle of the field towards the sideline. This forces the defense to either put an outside linebacker against the receiver or a safety, allowing for the middle of the field to open up for another receiver or allowing for the speed of the receiver to beat the defender towards the sideline.
  • Mesh: Involves the 2 inside receivers to run shallow crosses and force the linebackers to avoid hitting their teammate to continue covering them. Often allows a teammate to get separation when their defender is forced to stop or gets picked by their own teammate. Another play that can allow a quick, easy throw from the quarterback.
  • Shakes: Involves the outside receivers starting out their route by running inside as if running a slant and go (sluggo) route but at the end of their route, they cut sharply at an angle towards the sideline much like the Y Sail play. The speed and sharpness of their cut outside allows for the receiver to get separation from their defender.
  • Screens: A staple of this offense in part due to the sheer variety that coaches like Mike Leach, Hal Mumme, and Kliff Kingsbury employ. Inside WRs can run bubble screens where they run parallel to the line of scrimmage and let the outside WR block. Outside WRs can run inside and allow the inside WRs to block. HBs can run flat screens and let the inside and outside WRs block.
  • 6 or Verticals: Exactly what it says. All the wide receivers run vertical routes trying to stretch the defense and utilize their speed to get by their defender. Mike Leach mentioned in his book that he added a wrinkle, allowing for the quarterback to throw towards the receiver's shoulder closest to the sideline (back shoulder throw) and allow for the receiver to essentially turn the play into a button hook route by stopping short and coming back to the ball. Since the defender is going so fast vertically, he has to stop and takes longer to get back to the ball compared to the receiver.
  • Shallow Cross: The Y/Slot receiver runs a shallow crossing route underneath where the middle linebacker is. The other inside receiver runs a deeper route where he cuts sharply and runs parallel to the line of scrimmage in front of the deeper safety. Depending on whom the linebacker covers (the crosser or the square in receiver), the quarterback has 2 options to throw to and both should be wide open as a result.


  • Hal Mumme - head coach at Valdosta State 1992-1996, Kentucky 1997-2000, SE Louisiana 2003-2004, New Mexico State 2005-2008, and McMurry 2009-2012; offensive coordinator at SMU[3] 2013–present.
    • Mike Leach - offensive coordinator under Mumme at Valdosta State 1992-1996 and Kentucky 1997-1998, then at Oklahoma in 1999; head coach at Texas Tech 2000-2008; head coach at Washington State 2012–present.
      • Mark Mangino - offensive line coach at Oklahoma in 1999 under Leach; offensive coordinator at Oklahoma 2000-2001 after Leach's departure; head coach at Kansas 2002-2009.
      • Art Briles - running backs coach at Texas Tech under Leach from 2000-2002; head coach at Houston 2003-2007 and Baylor 2008-present.
      • Ruffin McNeil - at Texas Tech under Leach as linebackers coach 2000-2006 and defensive coordinator 2007-2009; head coach at at East Carolina 2010–present.
      • Clay McGuire - offensive line coach at Washington State 2012 under Leach; played under Leach at Texas Tech.
      • Eric Morris - inside wide receivers coach at Washington State 2012 under Leach; played under Leach at Texas Tech; IWR coach at Texas Tech 2013–present.
      • Robert Anae - offensive line coach at Texas Tech 2000-2004 under Leach; offensive coordinator at BYU 2005-2010; OC at BYU 2013-present.
      • Josh Heupel - played QB under Leach (1999) and Mangino (2000) at Oklahoma. Coached quarterbacks at Oklahoma from 2006-2009 before serving as Co-OC from 2010–present for Oklahoma.
    • Tony Franklin - running backs coach at Kentucky 1997-1999, under Leach in 1998; offensive coordinator at Kentucky in 2000; offensive coordinator at Troy in 2006, Auburn 2007-2008, Middle Tennessee 2009, Louisiana Tech 2010-2012, and OC at California 2013–present.
    • Chris Hatcher - quarterbacks and receivers coach at Kentucky under Mumme in 1999; head coach at Valdosta State 2000-2006, Georgia Southern 2007-2009, and Murray State 2010-present.
    • Dana Holgorsen - quarterbacks and wide receivers coach under Mumme at Valdosta State 1993-1995; at Texas Tech under Leach as wide receivers coach 2000-2006 and offensive coordinator in 2007; offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Houston under Kevin Sumlin 2008-2009; offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State in 2010; head coach at West Virginia 2011–present.
    • Sonny Dykes - wide receivers coach at Kentucky under Mumme in 1999 and Texas Tech under Leach 2000-2006; offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Arizona 2007-2009; head coach at Louisiana Tech 2010-2012; head coach at California starting in 2013.
  • Kevin Sumlin - wide receivers coach at Purdue 1998-2000, offensive coordinator at Texas A&M 2001-2002 and Oklahoma 2006-2007; head coach at Houston 2008-2011 and Texas A&M 2012-present.
    • Kliff Kingsbury - quarterback at Texas Tech 1998-2002, under Leach 2000-2002; offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Houston under Sumlin 2010-2011; offensive coordinator at Texas A&M under Sumlin in 2012; head coach at Texas Tech 2013–present.

The immediate impact of installing the air raid[edit]

From 1994-1996 the University of Kentucky went 9-24[4] while scoring 149, 223, and 138 points. Upon hiring Hal Mumme, they went 18-17 while scoring 348, 431, and 328 points from 1997-1999.

From 1996-1998 the University of Oklahoma scored 255, 232, and 184 points.[5] In 1999 they would score 430 points and finish 13-0 while scoring 481 points in 2000. The 481 points were the most they had scored in a season since 1987 when they were coached by Barry Switzer.

From 1997-1999 Texas Tech University scored 245, 315, and 253 points.[6] From 2000-2002 they would score 330, 402, and 537 points while improving their record to 9-5 by 2002. From 2002-2009 they never won fewer than 8 games under Mike Leach.

From 2000-2002 the University of Houston scored 211, 190, and 320 points.[7] In 2003, under Art Briles, they scored 448 points. That was the most since 1990 when they were coached by John Jenkins. Art would have 2 more seasons in which his teams would score over 440 points in a season. Kevin Sumlin would then take that up a notch with his teams scoring 528, 591, 452, and 660 points from 2008-2011.

From 2009-2011 Texas A&M University scored 427, 382, and 475 points.[8] Kevin Sumlin took over and led the 2012 Aggies to an 11-2 record while scoring 578 points and garnering a Heisman Trophy for QB Johnny Manziel.

Players Who Got Shots at NFL[edit]


Other links[edit]