By now you are aware of the crew cut-donning, swaggy bravado-strutting new offensive coordinator Phil Longo. You are probably also aware that before he was hired by Hugh Freeze, his then undefeated and record-setting Sam Houston State Bearkat offense that looked unstoppable all season long was completely shutdown in a FCS playoff game against eventual national champion James Madison.
Despite that one game, Longo was in fact hired less than a week later. And soon after his arrival to Oxford, Freeze also hired a new wide receivers coach to replace the departed Grant Heard. Longo and new receivers coach Jacob Peeler have understandably been working together closely the entire off-season in order to install Longo Ball and to be sure that Peeler’s group understands the significance they play in this new offense. Yes, the quarterback is the trigger man, but it is actually the receivers that make it or break it.
X&O Labs’ Mike Kuchar did a study earlier this summer about what Longo’s offense brings to the table and how he exposes defenses when they are not in position. The offense is predicated on the fact that quarterback makes reads at the line of scrimmage based on matchups and alignment. But it’s the aforementioned receivers who are given loads of freedom in order to expose mismatches of their own.
So just how will this translate this season when Ole Miss takes the field on September 2nd against South Alabama? Let’s take a closer look at Kuchar’s study and see how it will translate for WRU.
What are the receivers looking for pre-snap?
One of the most prevalent words in this study was “leverage”. And it is interpreted in more ways than one. Before the play even starts, the receivers are counted on to be able to recognize man coverage and zone coverage. The leverage of the defender will certainly tip things off, as well as motion during the pre-snap. After they have determined what’s what, they will then settle on which route to select from the tree.
The second thing the receiver is going to look for is the positioning of the defender. If they are on the inside shoulder of the receiver, then they are wanting to take away the inside routes/middle of the field. And if they are on the outside shoulder, they are settling with giving up the inside because they either have help on the interior from teammates or are going to use the boundary as an extra defender.
In the image above, you can see the cornerback at the bottom of the formation is showing outside leverage because of the safety help on the inside. At the top of the formation, there is one-on-one man coverage and the receiver has the freedom to choose a quick, inside route or a mid-to-deep outside route.
Either way, Longo Ball gives the receiver the freedom to pick the route they see fit in order to win their one-on-one matchup or find the soft spot in the zone.
What exactly is ‘chasing space’?
By now, you have certainly heard this phrase muttered by Longo. It is his mantra. His entire offense is designed to expose the defense for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now how do you do that? Well, you probably guessed it: chase space. The freedom given to the receivers paired with Shea Patterson’s simple two-step process (get the signal, identify the coverage) is something that has worked for Longo everywhere he has been. How will that work for Patterson and the NWO?
Peeler and Longo have a distinct advantage when it comes to running this offense because of the extremely talented room at their disposal. Ole Miss can hurt you with size and strength with the likes of A.J. Brown, DaMarkus Lodge and D.K. Metcalf or with precision with Van Jefferson, Tre Nixon or Markell Pack.
Chasing space could be something this receiving corps can really run with it because of their versatility. You have the interior precision via route running and quickness that can give strong safeties and linebackers fits. Or you can try to win one-on-one battles with big-bodied dudes on the outside. It is a real-life pick your poison scenario.
Leverage isn’t the only thing that creates mismatches.
It is one thing to recognize coverage and/or utilize positioning to get open and chase space. But, it can also be as simple as counting “1, 2, 3”, as in more receivers than defenders. One of Longo’s trademark plays that he runs is his bubble screen. A play that allowed him to enjoy great success by getting the football out to a play-maker in space and let him do the rest.
As you can see from the image above, the simple read is 3 vs. 2 at the bottom of the formation. The safety over the top might be able to slide over and make the play, but with Ole Miss’ big receivers who take pride in blocking downfield, someone like Jefferson can take a quick pass and get up field before said safety is in position to make a play.
In this situation, the offense wins the numbers advantage once again with the slot receiver at the bottom of the screen matched up against a linebacker who hasn’t slid over in time. The play results in a quick out that ended up being a first down. Ideally, in a perfect world, Patterson would go through his progressions and pick the mismatch, but this pre-snap ready was awfully simple.
One thing that Patterson will really thrive on is seeing the space given to a receiver when in man coverage and the only target on that side of the formation. If you take a look above, the receiver at the bottom of the formation has his choice of options with all the space from the numbers on in. The play was a RPO choice route, the receiver ran a six-yard slant and the ball was delivered to the inside shoulder for a first down to midfield. Just another example of a simple read for the quarterback and the receiver having the freedom to expose the defense.
Longo Ball is built on precision route running, tempo and simplicity. Which turns out, is something that Ole Miss’ receivers can most definitely thrive in given their skill set. The aforementioned diversity of the group presents mismatches everywhere whether that’s 6’4 D.K. Metcalf going up for a jump ball against a smaller corner in man coverage in the red zone or a former 100m sprinter like Tre Nixon running an out route against a linebacker and catching the ball and getting up-field before the defender has time to put his mouthpiece in.
Longo’s offense averaged 49.5 points per game and 368.3 passing yards per game in 2016. Now, whether that translates to the Southeastern Conference in 2017 remains to be seen. But, if we know anything, it’s going to be damn fun to watch Shea and Co. make people look silly because they will have no idea what’s coming at them.