Washington State Football: Mike Leach Air Raid and the (Still) Common Misconceptions of the Deep Ball


Aug 30, 2012; Provo, UT, USA; Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach during warm-ups before a game against the Brigham Young Cougars at Lavell Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

So I’ve read a few comments in various spots of social media lately that have been talking about how the Washington State offense is supposed to run under Mike Leach. Then I saw this just last night as a comment on one of our posted articles:

"Bruggman hasn’t stated training at all.he has skill but he is pro-style, and leach is a fan of deep passes and great arm strength. We’ll just gave too see what he brings to the table."

I don’t bring this up to embarrass anyone or to show anyone up, just to point out a couple of things because I’ve actually seen this quite a bit over the past year or so. This is a common misconception of the Leach offense. The thought is that the Air Raid offense racks up so many yards and you hear so much of the “four verts (verticals)” concept that it’s a deep ball offense, but that’s really not the case. In fact if there is a four verts call, it’s meant for one of two purposes, while serving a third.

The first purpose is to run everybody off and run a back or slot underneath, which is generally where the ball should go. Also a good play out of this look is a screen pass. The second purpose is to open up the safeties and find a mismatch down the field somewhere after the safety “makes his bed” so to speak. Yes, that’s a pass that can be thrown, but even then there’s not really a true four-verts implemented. Someone will hitch up at some point and someone else will break to make the safety choose. And the third served purpose is simply to back up the corners for what the Air Raid under Mike Leach is supposed to accomplish, which is the layered and in between routes, along with some quick screens to the receivers with space and a blocker out in front.

Leach is a master at using space to his advantage and spreading out the defense is a way to do it. He even involves his linemen in the fray with 3 yard splits to help his quarterbacks find throwing lanes, which is brilliant in theory, if the linemen are quick enough to eat up space and not get split or run around by a three or four man rush. But the key for Leach isn’t the deep ball, it’s the layered route concepts that allow someone to be open every play if the quarterback can just find them. The “in-between” routes that I’m talking about are more or less option routes that allow the receivers to “slow down” or “settle” as they approach open space between the coverage. And so on and so forth.

Thinking back to the Texas Tech days, it wasn’t the deep passes to Michael Crabtree that everyone remembers, it was the short ones that Crabtree muscled his way into the end zone. Of course nobody who saw it will ever forget the out route that Graham Harrell threw to Crabs, as he shrugged off a defender or two and tip-toed down the sideline to beat Texas with mere seconds to play. Again, it was a layered concept.

Don’t get stuck in the mindset that because the offense produces big numbers, it’s a “big play” offense from the ball in the air. The Mike Leach way is volume and he’s all about the short routes leading to something bigger, like setting up a slugger with a lot of jabs before throwing the hook. It’s what we’ve been harping that Connor Halliday must learn in order for this offense to take the next big step in its’ abilities to put points on the board consistently. Let the athletes that Leach and his coaches put on the field get the ball with some space and they’ll do damage.

Korbin (who wrote the article in question) summed it up nicely in his response to the idea of arm strength being a Leach thing:

"Actually, Leach could care less about great arm strength. He said numerous times in his book that the number one trait he looks for in a QB is accuracy and that is what Bruggman brings to the table. Also Leach’s offense is all about short quick passes and taking what the D gives you, not necessarily deep passes."

Go Cougs!