Is the “Air Raid” the answer to Clay Helton’s prayers?

Is the “Air Raid” the answer to Clay Helton’s prayers?
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Last year the Southen Cal Trojans ranked 91st in the nation for points scored per game. It’s a program which is renowned for its swaggering offence. This is why Clay Helton finds himself under pressure going in to summer camp.

Of course the post season situation was not helped by the Hello/Goodbye antics of Kliff Kingsbury arriving in L.A. to then swiftly depart to the NFL. An already dire situation seemed to get alarmingly worse.

However in the off season Helton has moved quickly (mostly through necessity) to resolve the Offensive Coaching staff crisis.

He has made two hires in offence. The most interesting hire is that of North Texas OC, Graham Harrell. Harrell is an exponent of the Air Raid Offensive scheme. It’s a scheme which divides opinion. It’s seen by many in College as a quick fix for offensive woes. Alternatively, it’s also seen as one that has become a graveyard for young QB’s unable to adapt to the scheme.

For those not familiar, the Air Raid Offence is a system based on the shotgun formation using four wide receivers and one running back. It utilises two outside receivers and two inside slot receivers.

The system therefore lives or dies on the QB’s reads and timings.

JT Daniels is the incumbent QB1 at the Coliseum. He’s the favourite to start under centre this season. How quickly Daniels can adapt to this new scheme will be key. However, his quick release and good footwork suit well, and should ensure his productivity flourishes. Backup QB’s Matt Fink and Jack Sears are both particularly mobile, however, and had strong showings in Spring games. The starting position is not yet locked down and Harrell has said it’s all to play for.

USC also has an impressive wide receiving corps in Amon Ra St Brown, Tyler Vaughns, Michael Pittman and running back Stephen Carr. Outside of the true heavyweights, Alabama and Clemson it is hard to identify a better group of wide receivers. So there is talent around Daniels to make this work.


Harrell implemented the Air Raid at North Texas successfully. It transformed the offence into a winning team over the course of a season.  The system is considered simple and easy to implement. However, Harrell introduced the scheme at North Texas without a physical playbook, which took the players some time to adapt to. Now that North Texas has suffered the growing pains, and can see the evidence that it works, they have no plans to change the offence even though Harrell has moved on.

The scheme is not without its critics and has high profile failures.

However, when it works it works well. Mike Leach’s Wazzou State is a stellar example of how well this system works well in the PAC-12.

In fact Mike Leach is considered the Godfather of Air Raid and quite simply football in Pullman is one of the most exciting places in the country to watch football, largely as a result of Coach Leach’s offensive wizardry.

Harrell is now part of the “Air Raid Tree” which starts with Leach (under who Harrell played for at Texas Tech) and somewhat ironically also includes Kingsbury.

Sadly the Trojans are not scheduled to play Washington State this year. Although I’m certain Helton will think that the clash with wily ol’ fox Leach would be a year too early anyway.

Coach Clay has thrown the dice. Where it lands is hard to tell but its going to be one interesting year ahead for the Trojans.

Photo credit: USC Annenburg Media/ CBS Sports

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