Rhett Lashlee’s time at UConn was short as he stayed in Storrs, CT for only one season in 2017. Lashlee came down to SMU to serve as the offensive coordinator for Sonny Dykes in 2018, who replaced Chad Morris as head coach of the Mustangs. Lashlee left Auburn and Gus Malzahn’s power spread to go to UConn where he could run what he wanted without oversight, and then took the trip down to Dallas, TX to work for an Air Raid coach in Dykes.
Sonny Dykes was the first branch of the Mike Leach coaching tree. Dykes followed Hal Mumme and Leach to Kentucky, and then Leach to Texas Tech. Dykes was then the O.C. at Arizona before taking the head coaching jobs at Louisiana Tech, Cal, and eventually SMU (there was a short stay at TCU as an analyst in there, too).
Did Lashlee run Air Raid concepts with the Huskies? Absolutely. In my piece about the UConn-Boston College game from Fenway Park (read that one here) I mention 92 (Mesh) specifically. And this education under Dykes only solidified Lashlee’s Air Raid chops as he could learn from one of the masters of the offense.
When Morris left SMU, the offense was ranked 25th per the SP+. While James Proche returned for Lashlee, SMU was also saddled with quarterback Ben Hicks who eventually would transfer to Arkansas to join Morris. Throughout the 2018 season the Mustangs were ranked only 105th in SP+ struggling through Hicks behind center. Hicks was only able to complete 55.9% of his passes and average only 6.9 yards per attempt with a 19:7 TD:INT ratio.
James Proche was still on campus and that made for 30 points per game because of his elite ability. Proche caught 93 balls in 2018 and 12 touchdowns. He was joined by Reggie Roberson Jr who averaged 15.4 yards per catch and scored six times. The running game wasn’t as elite and obviously Shane Buechele played better in 2019 than Hicks did in 2018. Buechele completed almost 10% more of his passes for over a yard per attempt more than Hicks.
I think what you saw in 2019 at SMU against Temple (read more about that here) is what you can expect to see in Coral Gables this fall (or spring? or 2021?). In 2019, Lashlee resurrected the SMU offense from 105th in SP+ to 30th, so basically right back where Morris left it when he took the ill-fated position at Arkansas. And to come full circle, where is Morris now? Working for Lashlee’s old mentor in Malzahn as the Auburn offensive coordinator.
Personnel groups and pictures
SMU was loaded up on tight end types I’m assuming still from the days of Bret Bielema and Miami’s beloved former offensive coordinator Dan Enos. Rhett Lashlee has been an “Adapt or Die” type of guy from his time at UConn, then 2018 at SMU and again in 2019 at SMU after the massive amount of transfers. Of course Lashlee comes out in true 10 (one back and no tight ends) and 11 (one back and one tight end) personnel sets throughout the game. However, in the couple of screenshots below the Mustangs are running 12 (one back and two tight end) sets.
A set ran throughout the Tulsa game was the one below. 12 personnel set with twin receivers up top and twin tight ends (h-backs, whatever) to the bottom. This is a hell of a formation for the defense to have to game plan against and I would personally spread those twin receivers out to make the defense cover more space to the field. It opens up running lanes for the QB, the RB and your RPO game. Get those flat defenders in conflict!
Yes, as suspected, Lashlee immediately went up tempo upon his arrival at SMU. At UConn it was more like asking yourself why do funeral processions run through red lights, what’s the hurry? And it’s not far from that at SMU in 2018. But Lashlee was getting the Mustangs conditioned both in the way SMU practiced and how they played in ‘18 for the 2019 season. You can’t condition for practice without practicing, and you can’t condition for games without playing games. No, those stupid 300’s and 110’s don’t condition anyone for anything but getting slower.
There are times where you can tell SMU slowed down when mistakes were being made, or they wanted to change personnel groupings or give someone a break. James Proche was running deep corner routes on smash concepts and they didn’t want him off of the field but they needed him able to run slot fades and verticals still, too.
Split zone is absolutely one of my (if not THE) favorite run concepts. It has a little bit of everything: you can bang it front side, bend it back inside of the H’s kick out block, linebacker read key manipulation is present and it’s an easy post-snap RPO concept because the QB is not involved in the running game.
It’s good to see Lashlee installing and dialing it up; Larry Hodges, Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory better be ready to stick their shoulder and thigh into the chest and crotch of some 5-technique defensive ends in 2020. In practice periods, this takes the H’s away from the passing game and into having to work on the run game in small group and large group periods.
Another one of my favorite types of concepts is the double screen. Lashlee went into an empty set against Tulsa and dialed up a bubble-tunnel double screen. The right side was just blocked up like a regular swing pass or pre-called bubble concept. The back side twins were blocking tunnel and the play side guard and the center went out wide to help block defedners. The linemen don’t get out there and the slot whiffs on his block so it’s a busted play and interception.
Obviously with better players and more time you’d expect this to work much better. It seems to be a part of many Air Raid team’s playbooks from Washington State to Houston and here with SMU.
Before they ran this nearly identical concept I tweeted out during my weirdo “live” tweeting of old games that SMU should in fact call up this concept. You can see that below:
They literally dial it up the very next play call. Proche was lined up where you see my H as the #3 threat (most inside to that side) but with more spacing from the offensive tackle. The J seems to have ran more of a slant while the Z still ran a dig. Not exactly the same concept but it’s the same concept. Hicks is forced so scramble and he hits Proche in the end zone coming off of his corner route and working back on the scramble drill.
How this works at Miami
I’ve covered a ton of “how this works at Miami” so far between the SMU versus Temple game from 2019 and the UConn versus Boston College game from 2017. The moral of the story is with D’Eriq King a lot will work and Lashlee hand picked King to be his guy. Cam’Ron Harris and the freshmen backs will thrive in Lashlee’s zone run game, too. The tight ends will love that he know show to not only get one involved, but often runs 12 personnel and uses them both interchangeably at UConn and SMU. It’s not a one off, he figured out using those players in the slot, wing, backfield and inline as a tight end with his hand down.
It will all come down to the receiver position. Proche has next level hands even if his down field speed leaves a lot to be desired. Proche’s best quality after his hands was his route running which was pristine. Quarterbacks Shane Buechele and Hicks also had Reggie Roberson Jr. who does have NFL speed. Who will King’s go to hands receiver be? Who will his elite speed guy be on the outside? Let’s hope we get the chance to find out.
Obviously SMU’s 2018 edition was really bad. During this Tulsa game they really gave the game away. Hicks took bad sacks, threw ugly interceptions, suffered a strip sack and overthrew wide open receivers including one sure fire touchdown throw. If you add in the false starts and snap infractions it didn’t look good for Lashlee in year one. This was the final game of the 2018 season, he had 11 prior games to get it right and the team just wasn’t ready in 2018.
By 2019 you could see what the coach could do with the extra 12 months and influx of P5 level talent at the G5 level. The issue at Miami will be the offensive line, and that it’s an improving ACC Coastal with UNC and Georgia Tech recruiting at record breaking levels for their programs. If the 2020 season even happens, will Lashlee’s guys be ready after a shorter spring and all of this missed time at the training table and in the weight room?