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Breaking down Major Applewhite as potential Miami offensive coordinator

Former Houston head coach could call plays in Coral Gables

NCAA Football: Houston at East Carolina James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Major Applewhite was fired by the University of Houston and replaced by Dana Holgorsen in what seems to be a fairly pre-planned and calculated maneuver. Applewhite managed to hire Kendal Briles but ultimately gave himself Al Golden’s same fate by employing Mark D’Onofrio and his 3-4 bend and break defense.


Applewhite came across as a nerd on the Coaches Film Room and hardly got a word in edge-wise. Applewhite just sort of hung back and took notes while playing on his phone the entire Rose Bowl. Before Houston, Applewhite was a co-offensive coordinator from 2011-2013 (53rd, 12th, and 55th per the S&P+), and at Rice (2006, 50th in the S&P+) and Alabama (2007, 70th in the S&P+).

Houston finished 5th in points per game this season putting up 43.9 points per game. Even with D’Onofrio’s miserable defense I guess teams scored fast enough against them to get the football back and score again.


The Cougs finished 16th in offensive S&P+ in 2018 behind star quarterback D’Eriq King who worked himself into a starting role in 2017. King, who was injured towards the end of the season, threw for 36 touchdowns with only six interceptions while averaging 8.6 yards per attempt. King also ran for 674 yards (6.1 yards per carry) and 14 touchdowns on the ground.

In 2017, the Cougs were 37th in offensive S&P+ balancing two quarterbacks including King and Kyle Postma who struggled in the role until King took over. Prior to being named head coach, Applewhite was the Houston offensive coordinator in 2015 and 2016. In 2016 the Cougs offense was only 69th in S&P+ and in 2015 the offense was 33rd as Houston finished the season 13-1.

Greg Ward Jr. was the quarterback for Houston in 2015 and 2016, while throwing 39 touchdowns and running for 31 touchdowns. Ward averaged around eight yards per passing attempt over the two seasons.

Applewhite will want a dual-threat quarterback who can make accurate throws and be analytical in the run-pass option offense as well as some Air Raid principles.

Personnel Groups

The Cougars run a typical NCAA offense featuring three wide receivers, a running back and a tight end slash h-back type of player. Romello Brooker did the bulk of the h-back work in 2018, as he scored seven touchdowns and averaged 12.4 yards per catch. Wide receivers Keith Corbin and Marquez Stevenson combined for 1700 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns. The duo averaged about 15 yards per reception.

On the ground, besides King, running back Patrick Carr ran for over 800 yards on 5.7 yards per carry with five touchdowns. Miami doesn’t currently have a QB who can work like Ward or King but maybe Buffalo’s Tyree Jackson who is on the transfer portal will step in. Jackson isn’t a big runner but he threw for over 3,000 yards (7.7 yards per attempt) and 28 touchdowns with 12 interceptions, and ran for seven more scores in 2018.

Modern Scheme

Houston employs my favorite play, the split zone with a stalk-bubble RPO. The safety runs downhill quickly on the RPO but the slot has to make the first man miss. The QB is reading the flat defender, when he plays the run aggressively the QB reads it and throws the bubble.

When you throw a bunch of screens the fake screen and wheel works great. This slant, bubble, wheel to the h-back came off of motion and the pump fake bites the defenders as Brooker runs by.

I love going empty inside the red zone. Many teams cram up the box and play 5 yard football once they’re inside the red zone only to kick a field goal after a couple of runs up the middle and a sloppy fade route. Applewhite attacks the middle of the field which I love, too. Read my post about why OC’s should stop throwing the red zone fade.

Some of Appelwhite and Briles’ 3rd level RPO game is evident here.

Another 3rd level RPO is here, too. When the free safety steps up and freezes in his feet the QB will fire the ball into a tight window.


Bill C did a wonderful preview for the Cougars which talks a lot about the Houston offense. I wanted Larry Fedora over Major Applewhite as the Miami offensive coordinator but it looks like Fedora has other plans and Applewhite will be a great quarterback coach slash OC but that could mean Frank Ponce isn’t coming over from Louisville. I liked the idea of Ponce recruiting quarterbacks and having even more of a Miami flavor in orange and green.