ECU Air Raid

On Saturday the Hokies young defense will be tasked with stopping one of the most potent offensive schemes in the country, the Air Raid. First year ECU head coach and former Texas Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill hired colleague and former Texas Tech assistant offensive coach Lincoln Riley, an understudy to Mike Leach, as his offensive coordinator. ECU is averaging 481.5 yards of offense (18th nationally) and 50 points (7th nationally) over their first two games. Albeit, that high production has come against Tulsa (99th nationally total defense) and Memphis (112th) whose secondaries could be best described as porous. The high output still impresses me because it's inexperienced personnel doing the heavy lifting.

The Air Raid aerial philosophy is like a polished playground attack. There's not an overwhelming amount of passing plays. Rather, the same plays are ran out of many different formations. It also stresses quality, through repetition at practice, over quantity. Receivers work short routes over the middle of the field and to the sidelines trying to feel out and settle in space, and there's always an option to push it deep. Simply put the receivers try to get open and make a play. How our linebackers defend the short routes is going to be something to keep an eye on. We cannot be successful if they tackle and cover like they did against Boise State and James Madison. Keep an eye on #17 Dwayne Harris ('09 1st team Conference USA). He's the go-to receiver, a speedy kid who runs good routes and someone you don't want to let loose in the open field.

Dominque Davis is an athletic quarterback who is growing as a passer. (You remember him, right? He's the former Boston College QB that we beat up in the '08 ACC Championship.) Much of ECU's offensive success can be attributed to his good decision making, he's thrown eight touchdowns to a single interception. He's also effective at making plays with his legs and arm outside of the pocket. Our defensive ends will have to do just enough to pressure and collapse the pocket, but not run up the field and break contain. It will be a boost to the defense is Chris Drager is healthy and ready to play.

Leach's version of the offense relies heavily on the pass. In 2009 67% of the Red Raiders' offensive plays were passes. So far this season Riley's play calling has been more balanced. ECU is throwing the ball 55% of the time. Against Tulsa ECU ran a lot of zone read option when the box was lite. You all know that play. It's the one where Tyrod sticks the ball in Ryan Williams' gut, reads the defensive end, then decides whether to pull the ball back and run it himself or go through with the hand off. Jon Williams will get most of the carries at tailback. He is strong enough to break tackles, yet shifty enough to make defenders whiff. It is imperative we contain him at the point of attack and tackle him. If he's able to get outside to the sideline it will be a long afternoon.

Ultimately, the Air Raid depends on a good pace of production. So the defense will need to do all they can to disrupt ECU's mojo by pressuring Davis, making sacks and getting physical with the receivers. ECU will get their completions. So we need to tackle to limit small gains from turning into big plays. The defense is athletic enough to get after and stop ECU. We just need to execute.

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get pressure.

lots and lots of short passes, means there better be lots and lots of sure tackling. ruh-roh.

then boom ... going deep.

gimmicky but fun to watch.


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