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Film Room: The Rhett Lashlee Offense

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Manny Diaz has his new offensive coordinator and we’re going to investigate this new offense

Birmingham Bowl - Auburn v Memphis

The Miami Hurricanes and head football coach Manny Diaz have found their new offensive coordinator. Coach Diaz has hired Rhett Lashlee away from the SMU Mustangs. The Mustangs finished 2019 with a 10-2 overall record and 47th rating per the SP+. I have written about Lashlee’s past in my piece on realistic OC options here on SOTU. Here is an excerpt from that piece specifically about Lashlee.

Rhett Lashlee was a fast riser attached to Gus Malzahn through both being Gus’ quarterback coach when Malzahn was the head coach at Springdale High School in Arkansas. Lashlee then followed Malzahn to Arkansas to serve as a GA, before taking a job under Malzahn (when Gus was the OC) at Auburn. Lashlee and Gus reconnected at Arkansas State in 2012 and Lashlee followed Gus to Auburn in 2013. Lashlee disappeared to UConn for the 2017 season, and then wound up back in the southwest at his current stop- SMU.

Where does Lashlee differ from Dan Enos? Just about everywhere. Don’t expect an excessive use of multiple tight end sets, instead look for a versatile h-back with three true wide receivers, or 11 personnel, on the field at most times. The tempo will be high, the Mustangs were 3rd in the FBS in plays per game at 80.9 in 2019. Oh, and it’s going to be high flying with Air Raid passing schemes as Lashlee loves using plays like 6 and mesh in his arsenal.

Don’t forget to check out Marsh Thomas’ piece on Lashlee from before his hiring (read that here.)


Analytics

The SMU offense was 27th in the nation and wasn’t aptly supported by the defense or kicking game. Lashlee’s side of the football scored 41.8 points per game for 7th best in the nation. At UConn, where Lashlee was OC in 2017, the Huskies moved from 119th to 105th in offensive S&P+.

At Auburn, Lashlee was the OC from 2013-2016 under Gus Malzahn. The Malzahn offense has typically deployed a dual threat quarterback (Cam Newton, Nick Marshall) and relied heavily on the running game. Lashlee was starting to want to sling the ball and allegedly, that’s why mentor and mentee split up.

Also while the OC at Auburn, Lashlee’s offenses were 5th, 3rd, 28th and 26th in the nation, respectively, per the S&P+. You can see a slight decline the longer Rhett was with the Tigers. Oh, and the year Lashlee was the OC for Malzahn at Arkansas State? The duo moved the Red Wolves from 88th in offense to 42nd per the S&P+ in only one season.

In 2019 at SMU, the Mustangs were 11th in FBS in points per play. In Lashlee’s first two seasons at Auburn, the Tigers were 11th and 20th in points per game. In his final two years as OC at Auburn the Tigers were 63rd and 53rd in PPG.


Formations

The most important part of the majority of SMU’s formations is the personnel grouping. Lashlee found ways to get tight end Kylen Granson, a former wide receiver at Rice, involved in a variety of ways. The six-foot-three, 235 pound Granson lines up as a winged h-back, inline tight end, slot receiver, and fullback in the backfield. He caught 43 balls for 721 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2019 (plus 16.8 yards per catch). An effective pass catcher and blocker is vital at the h-back position both in the Gus Malzahn, Sonny Dykes, and Clemson versions of the Lashlee offense. Clemson? Yes, his offense is very similar to the one ran by Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott.

I hope that guys like Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory are dancing around in your head as we talk about h-backs in the offense.

What’s a way to get your h-back involved in different sets? Bunch your receivers. You can put the h-back in front of the bunch or on the inside so plays like split zone can easily be motioned into from a bunch set.

Here you can see Lashlee using a standard 10 picture 2x2 window (10 picture meaning it looks like a typical 10 personnel package even if it’s not, and 2x2 meaning two receiving threats to each side of the center, not counting the running back).

Down inside the 5, Lashlee flashed some special short yardage formations against Memphis. This has a real Malzahn feel with a tight end on the line, and a winged h-back plus a receiver in motion and a bigger back in the backfield.

Below, 11 personnel with the h-back to the single WR side. SMU can slide him across on a play-action and into the flat or run split zone with an RPO to the weak side.


Run Concepts

In the run game, SMU ran better than many probably assume because of the hype surrounding Buechele. Xavier Jones, a bruising runner, totaled 1,276 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and 23 touchdowns on the season. He was joined by Ke’Mon Freemon who ran for another 517 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and five touchdowns. TJ McDaniel averaged 5.8 yards per carry and he and Buechele combined for five more scores. Yes, SMU scored a lot of points in 2019.

Split Zone

If you know me, you know I love the split zone play. It messes with the linebackers’ eyes and in the GIF here it allows the back to get 1on1 with a safety, who he destroys. The kick out guy for SMU at h-back was a defensive tackle and the usual h-back is inline as a tight end. Just another personnel variation for the Mustangs. Do I see Cam Harris being a good split zone back? Yes. Do I see him running dudes over? No. Hopefully Don Cheney can add that power piece to the offense.

Split Zone Naked Play-Action

In Lashlee’s split zone naked boot, SMU has the X drag across as the “sail” player in the flood concept. However, it’s not much different in the end from the diagram above. Both the h-back in the flat and the drag are open here for Buechele. Any good run game has a good naked boot game off of it in order to keep the defensive ends and flat defenders honest. I think Jarren Williams can run this play but will he still be around for 2020? I’m not sure.

1-back power

A solid play in many West Coast Offense and spread playbooks is a one-back power. The front side (guard, tackle, tight end) is blocked like zone while the back side guard will pull to be an extra blocker, the center blocks back and the back side tackle gap-hinges the back side. I like to add an RPO any time I pull to slow down the back side inside linebacker.

Stretch

Most spread schemes will use some form of outside zone, stretch or sweep in their playbook. SMU shows a stretch play against Houston quite a bit. The back is going to read off of the h-back’s butt. If the H’s butt is to the center, the RB runs under him. If his butt is to the side line, the RB will continue outside. If the H’s butt is straight back the RB will cut inside, hard.


Run-Pass Option or RPO

If you read my stuff here on SOTU, you know that I love run-pass options aka RPO’s. Whether Jon Gruden, Joel Klatt or Kirk Herbstreit really understand them yet is beyond the point- they work. Here SMU motions a guy into the flat and when the flat defender hesitates it looks like a numbers game to the top. However, you still have to read it and Buechele does, as you can see in the images he’s reading that guy. When the dude kind of sits in confusion it’s time to sling it out there and work in space. SPACE!

Miami needs to find ways to get Mark Pope, Dee Wiggins, Brevin Jordan and Mike Harley the ball out in space.


Pass Concepts

The Air Raid offense has influenced too many schemes to count as we turn to 2020. The Clemson Tigers use the Air Raid in some of their passing principles, as does Malzahn, Lashlee, Dave Patenaude at Georgia Tech, Phil Longo at UNC and the list goes on. What Mike Leach and Hal Mumme created many years ago lives on. Hell, you can even get an Air Raid Certification from Hal himself (click here for info).

Shane Buechele went from maligned Texas QB to talk of the country upon hooking up with Lashlee at SMU. Buechele threw for 3,929 yards and 34 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions. He improved his yards per attempt from 6.2 to 8.0 and only saw a slight dip in completion percentage while hitting on almost 63% of his passes.

Lashlee and Buechele hit James Proche 111 times for 1,225 yards and 15 touchdowns. Proche didn’t have the best yards per catch average at only 11, but the kid did work. The deep threats were all around him in Reggie Roberson Jr (18.7 yards per catch, 6 touchdowns), Granson, and Rashee Rice (16.1 yards per catch). Overall eight players had double-digit reception numbers for SMU on the season.

Could a true freshman in Tyler Van Dyke walk in and run this passing offense? Yes. I believe that he can. Would having a transfer QB like Jamie Newman help create a buffer for TVD like Mike Leach has done at Wazzu or Lincoln Riley has done at OU with Spencer Rattler sitting behind Jalen Hurts? Sure.

Mesh

Bunch mesh with a back side wheel worked so well for Ohio State against Michigan in 2018 that the entire country was trying to figure out how to put it into their offense in 2019. SMU found a way and it was quite successful here against the Tigers. Of course the biggest part of this play is protection and the read. I would rhythm the Z (or try to hit him at the bottom of my drop), read the mesh to the J (hitch up and throw off my original drop) and rush the arrow or flat route to the H (rush meaning if there’s pressure dump off to the h-back).

“6”

Against the Houston Cougars, you can see Lashlee go to another Air Raid staple, “6,” here for a touchdown. Mike Leach famously used 6 at Texas Tech to beat Texas back in 2008 with Graham Harrell at quarterback and Michael Crabtree at wide receiver. As you can see in the diagram above, the receivers are running four verticals or “four verts.” However, they have option routes. The QB can ‘tag’ them (change their route) before the play or the WR can adjust based on the coverage, alignment and personnel that’s across from them.

If you’re the WR on the top of the screen, and the cornerback is 7 yards off and playing inside, your option is to run a “comeback” and expect an outside throw that is either caught by the WR or out of bounds. For inside receivers, they can expect their throw inside so they break their route off towards the center. Leach called it 6 because it always got him a touchdown or 6 points.

Goin’ Deep

Off of play-action, because the QB has his eyes forward on his threats and targets, he’s able to get this deep ball off. Where Enos was slow developing and plodding on offense; Lashlee’s QB gets the ball out quickly as the offense also snaps the ball in rapid succession.

Here, the running back and h-back help in max protection in order to keep the Memphis defense from getting pressure. It allows the receiver to go deep and get under a rainbow throw and keep his foot in on the side line. Great throw, even better catch.


Goal Line and Gadgets

If your scheme is simple to you but looks complicated to the defense, you’ve already won a major battle. That battle is keeping the defense off guard, confused, and SLOW. You don’t have to be Matt Canada but a little window dressing never hurt anyone.

If this isn’t some sort of Paul Johnson meets Gus Malzahn bastard child I dunno what is. Sending an outside receiver in motion, then running him on a swing route back to where he started is a thing of beauty. Memphis defenders over adjust and get burned.

Taking advantage of your personnel is always important. you have a bruising running back, an athletic enough QB, and an h-back that can stick his head in the hole and clear space... this play just makes too much sense.

This is the longest GIF ever made but if you want a trick play to end all trick plays it’ll have to be a bit long. I think I ran this in Tecmo Super Bowl with the Minnesota Vikings but also would tackle it for a 20 yard loss every time I played them.


Vibe

In my realistic OC prediction post I said that I thought Lashlee was a realistic option to come and get back in the Power 5. I figured not a lot of current P5 OC’s would want to come to a rocky situation in Coral Gables. I predicted a boring OC in the pro style mold and almost got him when the UVA rumors came out but Lashlee is anything but boring, predictable, or traditional pro style.

I’m feeling the hire of Lashlee and hope Miami can bring in Jamie Newman from Wake Forest as a graduate transfer and maybe an offensive tackle to throw into the mix with Zion Nelson and Jalen Rivers. That would give Lashlee another experienced transfer QB to work with, like at SMU, and an experienced OT to protect him while Nelson and Rivers learn.

PS. If you want some more film watch this video from another nerd.