The Houston Cougars hired Dana Holgorsen away from the West Virginia Mountaineers of the Big 12 back in 2019. Holgorsen’s time at WVU had started to lose steam and a move back to Texas and especially in the talent dense area of Houston was a smart move. Also, the Cougars were primed to eventually be added into the Big 12 mix, anyway.
In Houston’s final season in the AAC before their move to the Big 12, the Cougs faced off against B12 cellar dweller Kansas amidst the Jayhawks resurgence to relevancy. Houston’s offensive coordinator for the 2022 season, Shannon Dawson, is now the play caller for the Miami Hurricanes.
Dawson brings his flavor of the Dana Holgorsen Air Raid to Coral Gables. Against Kansas, the Cougs offense hit on a handful of explosive plays- something the ‘Canes desperately need moving forward in the Mario Cristobal Era. But QB Clayton Tune also committed two turnovers, and the offense gave up a turnover on downs in their 18 point loss.
Against the Jayhawks, Tune hit on 8.8 yards per pass attempt. He threw one touchdown with one interception and lost a fumble on a strip sack. Tune did rush for 63 yards on scrambles and added a rushing TD.
Tune’s biggest receiving weapon was Ta’Zhawn Henry. Henry averaged 3.7 yards rushing with one TD, but was beautiful in the screen game with 21.4 yards per catch and a TD. The Houston O-Line surrendered four sacks and six TFL’s.
Star wide receiver Nathaniel Dell was held to a pedestrian 12.7 yards per catch off a 20-yard long and no touchdowns. RB Brandon Campbell ripped off a 40-yard run, and averaged 9.6 yards per carry on the afternoon.
As a team, Houston finished 7-of-13 on 3rd down and 0-for-1 on 4th down. The Cougs lost the time of possession battle but only Josh Gattis cares about TOP in this score early and often world of modern college football.
One preface is that this looks like an even worse loss if Tune isn't mobile. 5-man blocking schemes and the creativity was lacking. I hope Van Dyke is more mobile in '23 than last year. pic.twitter.com/CZhQlzMCc8— StateOfTheU.com (@TheStateOfTheU) April 3, 2023
Above- Clayton Tune’s mobility really kept the Houston offense alive against Kansas. Tune evaded pressure, escaped sacks, and turned potential interceptions or thrown away balls into 1st downs.
While Tune didn’t run on more than one designed run (a QB draw we’ll discuss later) he scrambled his way to an efficient day. I’m not sure if Tyler Van Dyke has the ability to scramble Miami out of bad plays. 2021 Van Dyke could’ve to a point, 2022 Van Dyke could not move at all. He was as stationary as an aging Dan Marino, and not as mobile as a young Gino Torretta.
In this era of CFB, the QB has to be able to move enough to extend plays, pick up first downs, and be a threat on read options that he may pull and run- because defenders are so damn athletic you can’t get stuck playing 10-vs-11.
On a zone play, you don't have to part the Red Sea for a big play. It's the back's job to show patience, slow-to / fast-thru. Put your foot down and squeeze through for a big play like this clip. Which Miami RB shows this patience? (Not doubting anyone does, literally asking) pic.twitter.com/NzSOPkW9aJ— StateOfTheU.com (@TheStateOfTheU) April 3, 2023
Above- The reason that coaches like zone running schemes is that giant men that can over-power super athletic freak defensive linemen don’t grow on trees. Recruiting blue chip offensive linemen is obviously a premium to Nick Saban and Kirby Smart, and of course Mario Cristobal, too.
In a gap scheme your OL has to dominate the DL, even with angle blocking. In the zone it’s more of a stalemate with the RB cutting off of the blocks. That’s what you see above, the back cutting off a barely won block by the OL and turning it into 40 yards. It’s a game of inches, both north and south and east to west.
I love the "stop" concept (slant-sit). They use it with a flat-wheel route as well. If LB's are chasing flats/bubbles the window opens up. Solid flash-fake PAP tag as well if they want it. pic.twitter.com/lgufcyDjx4— StateOfTheU.com (@TheStateOfTheU) April 3, 2023
Above- I’m personally a HUGE fan of the “stop” concept (slant-to-sit). Teams love to use flat routes (angle/slide) and bubbles in their RPO game. Overhang players (LB/S hybrid types) are tasked with doing so much on every play. They have to know their run responsibility, pass drop or man, and option role. They’re filling gaps, adjusting to motion, working off of stunts and twists, scrape and gap exchanges.
It’s a ton for someone to remember. So Houston uses motion and a wheel route to window dress the stop. Houston goes back to it a few times against Kansas but doesn’t attack with a stop and go or really get the wheel working for a big score vs Kansas.
Outside of 2-3 other plays, 3 screens were the Cougs 'explosives' vs. Kansas. pic.twitter.com/fD91Kyi85d— StateOfTheU.com (@TheStateOfTheU) April 3, 2023
Above- RB delay screens were big money for Houston vs. Kansas. The Cougs are a pass happy attack and slowing down defenders or taking advantage of them with screens is a smart idea. Things worked best for the Cougs inside the seams vs. outside of them. So WR screens weren’t going to be as useful as delays.
Now you run this many screens eventually they get sniffed out. Great play by Kansas here to finally stop the screen pic.twitter.com/sP31CX6e4K— StateOfTheU.com (@TheStateOfTheU) April 3, 2023
Above- Screens to me are at most effective once per quarter. Four a game might be pushing your luck as an OC. Going to the well too many times can lead to tackles for loss or worse- turnovers. KU sniffs the screen out above, but Houston comes back to it for an explosive in the 4th quarter.
Good discussion with a fellow coach on bubble tags vs flat tags on RPO's. Would love to know what @CoachDubMaddox feels re bubble vs flat (arrow? slide?) This flat tag works beautifully on the RPO. pic.twitter.com/PWRBXbZSjA— StateOfTheU.com (@TheStateOfTheU) April 3, 2023
Above- Had a great discussion with an offensive coach during my tweet session of this film. He uses the flat route over the bubble in his RPO’s and really doesn’t like bubbles at all because they can lead to fumbles where flat routes can’t. Houston ran almost exclusively flat routes for RPO’s, PRO’s (pass-run options) and on the stop concept.
Familiar naked slide route from the TE here for Tyler Van Dyke. Miami has the TE's to turn this into a big play every time. I also love it +10yl. pic.twitter.com/sAaL8ETmM0— StateOfTheU.com (@TheStateOfTheU) April 3, 2023
Above- Another flat route came off of a slide RPO. Van Dyke loved the slide off of an RPO or naked boot under Rhett Lashlee. Lashlee and Dawson use a lot of similar concepts in their playbooks. The run game had a couple of big plays and mix that with the ability of Tune to run and this slide comes open for Houston. Picture Jaleel Skinner turning this into a 25 yard gain for Miami.
Dana has gone from empty set "horns down" to multiple TE's cramming the box +5yl. You're getting the Lashlee three straight inside zone tries. The RB bounces this one for a TD, but I'd prefer something more exciting. They fail to score +5 later in a game that could've been closer pic.twitter.com/9nPJDYXquH— StateOfTheU.com (@TheStateOfTheU) April 3, 2023
Above- Dana’s offense has gotten a little boring for me. I miss his more creative “horns down” days at WVU with Jake Spavital as his OC and Will Grier at QB. In ‘22, Dana got bunched up at the goal line in +10 territory. I miss him going empty and relying on the mobility of Grier and his accuracy. Tune and run and puts balls in good spots. Houston was taking 3-4 plays to score for the 5-yard line.
GY counter is a Lincoln Riley staple. I don't like the back-turn from the QB in Dawson's scheme. It takes away any chance at an RPO or read option. Why not read a LB or End and have the chance to get out of a bad call? pic.twitter.com/gwKaMScjOW— StateOfTheU.com (@TheStateOfTheU) April 3, 2023
Above- It was good to see some Lincoln Riley on display from Dawson’s offense. GY Counter is a Riley staple. BUT- what I like about Riley’s counters are the RPO and read tags on them.
Here, Dawson has Tune turn his back to hand off and that puts the defense ahead 11-10 on the offense in terms of bodies. The QB is useless the second his back turns. Keep him in the play to slow down the defense.
I'm a big pass-run option guy to go with the RPO game. Here the Cougs look to their flat concept 1st. The LB runs with it so the Q keeps on a draw. PRO's have worked well at a lot of places including Miami with Malik Rosier. pic.twitter.com/8rfxwpYOQU— StateOfTheU.com (@TheStateOfTheU) April 3, 2023
Above- One of my favorite concepts to run is a pass-run option (PRO). They work when QB’s are even remotely mobile so I really hope Aaron Feld and the strength staff have worked with Van Dyke on his speed and true agility.
In the clip above, Tune reads the flat route and when the LB runs with it (directly above) he keeps and runs the draw behind his lead blocking OL.
I like trick plays, I don't love how this WR ran the football. If WR's are going to be a big part of your run scheme (jet sweep, counter/criss-cross, option/shovel, trick plays) you have to rep their OODA Loop as ball carriers. 50% drills and scout looks won't cut it. pic.twitter.com/cW9e1z6ppT— StateOfTheU.com (@TheStateOfTheU) April 3, 2023
Above- I love a trick play, but 1- it can’t be your only downfield throw like for Rhett Lashlee at times; and 2- they gotta work!
Also, you have to teach WR’s how to run the football. This isn’t a catch out in space where the only task is to get vertical and get gone. Running the ball takes patience, vision, and the ability to cut on a dime.
If this WR cuts up the nearest defender is 20y away. Instead he stretches the play and winds up with 2-3 yards. ALL BALL CARRIERS need to practice their OODA Loop in real drills and small sided games that can help create their true agility (eyes-brain-legs).
Down and a kick from the back side guard (BSG). The TE does an amazing job of directing his block to allow for this to open up. RB does a solid job of cutting off a less athletic player. Miami has gotten more athletic on the O-Line and it'll allow for more pulls in general pic.twitter.com/bYv10gt93w— StateOfTheU.com (@TheStateOfTheU) April 3, 2023
Above- GY Counter and guard wrap/trap type plays were a nice touch for Houston. With Jalen Rivers, Javion Cohen, Francis Mauigoa and Matt Lee all mobile options on the starting OL I expect to see a ton of pulling in ‘23. Wide pull, dart, trap, power, wrap, etc to get the numbers in Miami’s favor at the point of attack.
Mario Cristobal has attempted to reverse course on his offensive philosophy (ground and pound), defensive philosophy (3-4), and his 5-7 (replacing a dozen players, almost every assistant coach and coordinator) first year as Miami head coach. Shannon Dawson’s resume and scheme leave some points to be desired, but Miami has the star ratings, mostly weak schedule, and potentially Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback on the roster.
Hopefully the ‘Canes can get more out of Dawson on a consistent basis than the Houston Cougars were able to, and the WVU Mountaineers for that matter. There are definitely parts that I like to see: stop, pulling gap scheme runs, RPO’s, PRO’s, and mobile QB’s. But the effectiveness of the playbook was lacking at times against Kansas.