Air Raid picks up pace of progress
UH fans are trained to know that when the Blaze — an oil field warning siren that was chosen to represent the University’s ties to the petroleum industry — sounds off, the team has crossed the goal line.
The Cougars have heard that siren numerous times during a game while putting up lofty figures on the scoreboard.
The teams’ pace aids its ability to score a lot of points. They snap the ball and score touchdowns at a fast rate, which leads them to hear that siren more frequently. UH has been ranked in the top 10 for touchdowns scored in three of the last five seasons.
From 2008 to 2012, the Cougars were labeled the fastest team in college football after running an average of 3.02 plays per minute, including last year’s team with a record of 3.28 plays per minute, according to SB Nation’s Football Study Hall.
“It’s a little bit of our brand; it’s our style and we feel like we can recruit those type of skilled guys to come here, be explosive and get them the ball in space,” said head coach Tony Levine.
For years, the Cougars have run the Air Raid offense, a scheme that is primarily run in the shotgun formation and is predicated on the quarterback’s accuracy on short and medium passes as well as the offense’s ability to sustain drives.
The Air Raid is designed to run plays and score points at a fast pace while forcing opposing defenses on their heels. If run efficiently, the opposing defense is generally given an insufficient amount of time to shuffle personnel onto the field from the sideline. It is intended to cause confusion and fatigue and give the offense a greater chance of making big plays and scoring points at a fast rate.
The fall season will be redshirt junior quarterback David Piland’s fourth season in the Cougars’ fast-paced offense.
Piland said the speed of the offense’s plays is an attempt to leave the defense confused and put the offense in a position to strike a big play.
“By going fast, the defenses get slowed down, their defensive line gets tired out, and that’s how we utilize that to get an advantage on offense,” Piland said.
“Also, when you see the blitz, you can say to yourself, ‘this is a better play, check into that play and then we’ll go.’”
Outside receivers coach Brandon Middleton said the fast pace is designed to open up the offense and force the defense to constantly play on their heels.
“(Defenses) are going to lay off a little more out of respect and be more passive and play a ‘bend and don’t break.’ The tempo puts defense more in a base and in a hurry up mode,” Middleton said. “If we figure out the base call, it makes it easier for us to call plays.”
However, if not run correctly, this scheme can also serve as a weakness.
The Cougars struggled consistently to find an offensive rhythm, with a 41 percent completion rate — their lowest since 2005. It caused them to get off the field faster than anticipated, stop the game clock and put a huge burden on the defense, who may still have been trying to catch their breath from the previous possession.
The Cougars’ defense was on the field for 35:12 per game and allowed their opponents to convert more than seven third-down conversions per game — in both they were last in the country.
Levine said he has seen the fast-paced offense affect his defense in a negative way, which is an issue he and his staff have addressed.
“When you practice what we do offensively every day, defensively you can get into bad habits because you want your guys to give a great effort, but as soon as the play is over, there’s 11 guys on offense ready to snap the ball again and the defense is trying to hustle back or get coached up. It’s something we have certainly worked on and pointed out,” Levine said.
When the Cougars were still a part of Conference USA in 2012, the conference was ranked the second fastest in college football. But when the Cougars enter the American Athletic Conferencce this season, they will face a new batch of teams that will play at different speeds, including Louisville and Rutgers, who were both one of the 20 slowest-paced college football teams for the last five seasons.
To compete in the American, in which the players have more size and strength than C-USA, the Cougars have been focusing on getting bigger and stronger through recruiting.
That doesn’t mean the Cougars will abandon the Air Raid though. Levine and the Cougars still expect that touchdowns will trigger the siren many times this season.