Chip Lindsey was hired in December of 2015 to replace Mike Norvell as ASU’s offensive coordinator. While he was brought in to run the same offense that Todd Graham has run for years as an FBS-level head coach, Lindsey has years of experience running his own schemes, at both the high school and college level, and is sure to put his footprint on Graham’s high octane system. Here, we’ll take a look at how Lindsey might tweak things, based on film study of Lindsey’s offense at Southern Miss and some observations made at a couple of ASU’s fall practices.
Passing Game – An Air Raid Influence
ASU’s passing game is where Lindsey’s influence will be the most visible. His offenses at the high-school level, at Troy University, and Southern Miss were all Air Raid-based, and from what I’ve observed at the practices I’ve attended, Lindsey is instilling an Air Raid mentality in the Sun Devils’ passing game. This is apparent from the drills they run, to the coaching points used in instructing the receivers and quarterbacks, to the actual route concepts being installed.
Before we get into what Lindsey’s passing game is going to actually look like, let’s do a brief overview of what the Air Raid offense is. The Air Raid was made famous by Mike Leach when he was the head coach at Texas Tech, but was developed by him and Hal Mumme, who he coached under at Valdosta State and the University of Kentucky (Tony Franklin was also heavily involved in its development). Its roots are in the BYU passing game that put that program on the map starting in the late 1970s under LaVell Edwards and his offensive coordinator Doug Scovil – Mumme and Leach just modernized the offense by going exclusively from the shotgun, using spread formations, and adding an up-tempo, no-huddle approach. The core of the old BYU passing game and the Air Raid is made up of route concepts designed to defeat zone coverage using horizontal and vertical stretches, forcing the defense to defend the entire field, along with some man coverage beaters mixed in. Many of these concepts are short, ball-control passes that can serve to replace the run game to some extent. If you’re interested in reading a more thorough history of the Air Raid offense, you can go here.
Now let’s go over a few of these route concepts that are likely to be a large part of the ASU passing game in 2016:
Y-Stick and Y-Corner (or Snag)
As noted above, most route concepts that are designed to defeat zone coverage include either a horizontal stretch or a vertical stretch. A horizontal stretch attacks a zone defender by placing two receivers in his zone – one on either side of him. A vertical stretch attacks the defender by placing receivers both underneath and behind him. The Y-stick and Y-corner concepts include both a vertical and a horizontal stretch, sending receivers to spots on the field that form a triangle.
In Y-stick, the Y receiver (the slot or tight-end) runs a stick route, pushing to 5 yards downfield, then turning inside and facing the quarterback in the space in between the flat defender and the inside linebacker. The running back (or inside-most receiver in a trips formation) runs a swing route, speed out, or some other variation that gets him into the flat near the sideline. The Z (outside receiver) runs a standard fade route. The stick and the swing create the horizontal stretch, while the fade creates the vertical stretch. The quarterback usually reads deep-to-short, with the fade being option one, the stick being two, and the swing being the third read.
Y-corner is the same concept, but flips which receiver runs the deep route and which runs the short route. As the concept name indicates, the Y runs a corner route, making his break at about 7 yards. The Z runs a snag (or slant-settle) route, which is a quick slant where the receiver settles in the space between the flat defender and the inside linebacker. The running back’s route is the same as in Y-stick. Again, the quarterback’s read is deep-to-short, with the corner being read one, the snag being read two, and the swing route being read three. Y-corner takes longer to develop than Y-stick, and is generally run with a 5-step drop (at least when run from under center), whereas Y-stick is a quick-hitter run from a 3-step drop.
If Y-corner looks familiar to ASU fans, it should – it was one of Noel Mazzone’s favorite plays when he was the offensive coordinator under Dennis Erickson.
This concept has become incredibly popular across college football, and is the main reason so many teams play quarters coverage on defense now. It’s a horizontal stretch on the deep zone defenders, and is exactly what it sounds like – four vertical routes spread out across the field, and is impossible to defend with either two-deep or three-deep coverage. The receivers are instructed to run to open spots on the field, and are free to cut off their routes if the deep zone defenders drop too deep in order to prevent a pass over the top. The quarterback’s read depends on the coverage – against two high safeties, the read is inside-out on the boundary side, with the slot receiver being read one, and the outside receiver being read two. If the deep defender stays with the slot, the outside receiver is open, and if the defender widens too much, the slot is open down the seam. Against one high safety, the read begins with the slot on the field side, then goes to the slot on the boundary side, followed by the outside receiver on the boundary. If the deep middle safety moves to the field side when the quarterback looks at read one, the slot on the opposite side should be open down the seam.
This concept is the man beater, and is very common across both college football and the NFL. It’s basically a rub route involving the slot receivers on either side of the formation. The Y receiver (the slot on the right side) runs a short crossing route, setting the depth at about 6 yards. The receiver on the other side who is running the corresponding crossing route (the X or the H), runs just underneath the Y (in practice, the receivers are instructed to touch hands as they pass each other to ensure the crossing routes create the desired rub). The Z receiver runs a corner route, and the running back runs a swing route to the right side. The quarterback’s read is deep-to-short again, with the Z being read one, the crossing route coming from the opposite side (X or H) being read two, and the running back being read three. While this concept is especially useful against man coverage, this read progression creates another triangle stretch, making it effective against zone coverage, as well.
While I don’t expect ASU to make any wholesale changes to their running game, film study of Southern Miss’s 2015 offense does indicate that Lindsey may make some tweaks here and there. Under Mike Norvell, ASU’s bread and butter run play was the inside zone read, but it was complimented with a heavy dose of power, counter, and sweep plays which use man blocking schemes. Southern Miss’s run game, however, almost exclusively used zone blocking schemes, and only had a sprinkling of power and such.
It does appear, at this point, that ASU is moving to the more zone-based scheme, with inside zone still being the bread and butter, but with outside zone being utilized more heavily than before. Power, counter, and sweep plays will still likely be a part of the playbook, but relied on much less. It’s also important to note that despite Lindsey’s passing game being Air Raid based, ASU will still rely heavily on the run game. Lindsey had two 1,000-yard rushers last season, and has frequently made statements about how important it is to run the football at the college level. It’s not going to look like a Mike Leach offense, only running the ball 30-35% of the time.
Personnel and Formations
This is another area where there won’t be any major changes – just small tweaks to fit Lindsey’s preferences and allow him to get the most talented players on the field at the same time. ASU will likely continue to use 11 personnel (1 running back and 1 tight end) as their base package, and will still operate primarily from the shotgun. So visually, the offense won’t look strikingly different.
While at Southern Miss, Lindsey did utilize 20 personnel (2 running backs and no tight ends) more often than ASU ever did. Mike Norvell did like to have two running backs on the field at the same time on occasion, but rarely lined them both up in the back field – one was usually lined up in the slot. Lindsey likes keep both backs in the backfield when using 20 personnel.
Lindsey also often deployed his H-back differently than Mike Norvell did. In Norvell’s offense, when the tight end lined up in the backfield, it was in the traditional H-back alignment – just off the line of scrimmage, and just outside of the tackle. Lindsey often lined up his H-backs more like fullbacks, a few yards deep in the backfield, usually next to the quarterback when they were in a pistol formation.
In addition to the minor changes to formations and personnel groups, Lindsey also likes to identify the receiver positions in the more traditional way, with X and Z being the outside receivers, left to right, and H and Y being the slots. Norvell used a number system to identify his receivers, with 2 and 9 being outside, 5 being the slot, and 3 being the tight end. Also, because of his Air Raid background, he likely won’t flip formations. In other words, the X will always align on the left side, and the Z always on the right side. This reduces the number of routes the receivers need to learn, and will also allow the offense to get aligned more quickly when going up-tempo.
The tweaks that Chip Lindsey is likely to incorporate should be a positive development for ASU’s offense. The implementation of Air Raid passing concepts will allow the Sun Devils to stay on schedule and avoid third-and-long situations even when they aren’t able to consistently get 4-5 yards running the ball on first down. Simplification of the run-blocking schemes could help the young offensive line come together more quickly. All of this, when combined with the fact that Lindsey has a reputation as an excellent teacher of quarterbacks, could lead to the offense remaining productive in 2016, despite breaking in a new quarterback and four new starters on the offensive line.