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Dawson Dossier: Tulane 27 - Houston 24 (OT)

Tulane knocks off Houston in overtime with their 3rd string quarterback. The Green Wave defense played strong against the Cougars offense.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 30 Tulane at Houston Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Miami Hurricanes have a new offensive coordinator in Shannon Dawson. I detailed Dawson’s career in the link below, so we’ll skip over the introduction. Dawson comes to Coral Gables from the Houston Cougars where he worked under his mentor Dana Holgorsen.

For the sake of sanity we’re going to assume Mario Cristobal has hired Dawson to run Dawson’s version of the Air Raid. That should include 6, mesh, shallow cross, stick, and a fair amount of screens and swings in the passing game.

In the run game- the concepts are a mix of gap and zone. Mario isn’t going to let anyone come in and replace his desire to run inside zone, split zone, and wide zone or power. RPO tags are a big part of Dana’s offense, and I would like to see them brought back to the Miami offense under Dawson.

Dawson and Cristobal both prefer a slower tempo offense than the typical modern style, but Dawson will look for “10 personnel” pictures (above- one running back, no tight ends by alignment) more than Cristobal typically would prefer.

Houston finished the game against Tulane 9-of-18 on 3rd down and 1-of-1 on 4th down. Clayton Tune threw 33 passes on 6.3 yards per attempt with two TD’s, no interceptions, but did lose a fumble for a touchdown. Houston ran the football 46 times (48 including the two sacks allowed) with one touchdown on 3.6 yards per rush.

Run Game

RB Brandon Campbell rushed for 66 yards and the Cougars lone score on the ground. Campbell averaged 3.5 yards per carry. Tune added another 56 yards on four yards per carry- a skill that I’m not sure Tyler Van Dyke can add unless he completely changes his strength and conditioning programming.

Above- Tight Zone with the Q reading the overhang player. I’m thinking the Q would pull if the overhang guy dropped into coverage to hit that slant from the slot. Looks like an RPO more than a read option. 3rd and 1 and still not stuck in a call. Gotta love it with an experienced QB.

Above- Formations on formations for Houston vs Tulane. 3rd and 5 and a safe run call down seven near the end of the 3rd quarter. Split zone from 21p split backs.

Above- Even though it’s a pass, your PA game is part of your run game in the gameplan. But, when you can’t run the football no one falls for the handoff. The Q is deep, the rush comes wide and Tune is sacked.

RPO’s, like PAP’s, are part of the run game. One thing I think we’re all going to appreciates about Dawson is not being stuck in play calls like under Josh Gattis. 12 personnel set, with an RPO tag to the solo WR running a slant.

The CB plays the WR head up instead of inside, giving up the slant. As a DC I would much rather cut off the inside pre-snap, jam the WR outside and force the fade jump ball throw which is low percentage compared to a slant.

Above- The Q is looking at the safety. When the safety plays the run, the Q knows to pull and throw the slant.

Above- Has Dana just gotten boring with old age? Is he feeling too safe? This is an absolute Rhett Lashlee of a call on 1st and goal. I get it, why risk it? But to line up in 12p +5 and just ram in the Inside Zone run is such a snoozer. Cougars finally tie it up against Tulane’s 3rd string QB.

Anyone remember Horns Down? It was West Virginia’s empty set they used +10 a few times with Will Grier at QB. There were multiple options on the play, almost like the old “swinging gate” extra point play.

Above- Counter-RPO out of the old Oklahoma Sooners playbook under Lincoln Riley. When #1 for Tulane plays the run in the box- the Q is going to throw the swing. Again, not stuck in a call, nice way to run an overhand double option.

Pass Game

Tune threw 33 times for only 208 yards. Nathaniel Dell caught both TD passes but averaged only 9.1 yards per catch. Eight different players caught at least one ball which is a nice touch that the system allows for everyone to get a hand on the ball, but only two receivers eclipsed the 15 yards per catch margin.

Above- What you really like to see is the R4 modeling of pass concepts being utilized. Toon reads the inside post (rhythm) to the outside vert (read) to the swing from the motioning back (rush) before he scrambles (release).

Above- You also have to appreciate the number of sets, but with similar concepts. Here it’s a 20 personnel picture. The RB will bullet motion to a swing route, this creates space over the middle.

Above- The beauty of the Air Raid isn’t the concepts, it’s the use of space. If you force the defense to cover 53 13 yards wide and 50 yards long- they’re spread thin. Now the Q can either be really accurate with ball placement (the AR’s no. 1 trait in a QB) or run (Dana likes more mobile Q’s than Hal Mumme or Mike Leach ever cared about).

Above- Trips with a winged TE, 11 personnel look. #1 (OR) runs a Fin (3-5y in), #2 (slot) runs a deep curl (12y or so) and #3 (TE) runs a slide. is progression looks to be Curl (rhythm), Fin (read), Slide (rush).

Above- Improvising and “throwing to the open guy” are what the Air Raid is all about. It’s the antithesis of the West Coast Offense / Pro Style stuff Josh Gattis and Cristobal were running in ‘22. Might Leach cared less about progressions and more about “throw to the open guy.” One of his best QB’s was Gardner Minshew, a ‘make chit happen’ type of QB.

Above- 2nd and 7 and they dial up the red zone fade. They get a 1-on-1 and the Tulane CB is in press man but doesn’t get a jam on the WR. An inside-out move beats him. Any hand contact inside of five yards and that’s a much tougher catch and throw.

The Wrap

Tulane and their 3rd string QB beat Houston 27-24 in 2022. The Green Wave put the game on their back up to the back up’s shoulders and he got a signature win for the Tulane Cinderella season. Dawson and Dana, on the other hand, played it really damn safe with their experienced passer and it turned into a loss that should’ve been a win.

Playing it safe is the Mario Cristobal way and he’ll clearly expect Miami’s defense in 2023 to be much better than it was in ‘22. But will it be better? Can the offense just rely on the defense to bail them out of jams? Tune in next time as we’ll look at the mess that was the Cougars high scoring affair against the SMU Mustangs.