In 24 short days, Kentucky will head down to Nashville’s LP Field to take on Bobby Petrino’s Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. The narratives will be running thick for this game as well. This contest marks Bobby Petrino’s return to the sidelines after the now infamous motorcycle incident which got him fired from Arkansas. This meeting will also see Kentucky’s quest for redemption after last season’s embarrassing home loss to the Hilltoppers. Oh yeah, Mark Stoops and his staff will not only be coaching their first game at Kentucky, but they’ll be implementing an exciting offense to boot. The return of the Air Raid has given fans around the Commonwealth visions of the late 90’s when passing yards and touchdowns were plentiful, but this also raises a question, just how similar are Neal Brown’s and Hal Mumme’s versions of the Air Raid? A few weeks ago, I pointed out some of the statistical differences in play calling tendencies and concluded that Brown preferred to run more often than did Mumme, among other things. I also pointed out that – according to my eye’s estimate – Mumme’s teams seemed to pass quicker than did Brown’s. This perceived difference in speed led me to conduct a little bit of research.
In my experience on the internet (that’s kind of a dangerous thought to think about), I’ve found that people tend to associate different offenses with one another. For instance, when some people hear “spread option,” they assume that all coaches who run the spread option run identical versions of the offense. Though they have similar roots, this term is more of a generic labeling than anything else. Some versions of the spread option favor the pass while others favor the rush. Some like to align in tighter formations while others like spreading the field. These individual styles can trace their roots back to a “spread option” origin, but there are many different types of spread option football.
The same concept applies to the Air Raid as well. Just because coaches run the system doesn’t mean they’re identical. Sure, many of the downfield passing concepts are similar, but there are subtle differences. Through some research, I’ve found this to be the case when comparing Neal Brown’s Air Raid to Kentucky’s Air Raid of the 1990’s. Many people are of the opinion that the Air Raid is designed to distribute the ball to a receiver as fast as possible, and those people are mostly correct. Most plays in this system are designed to be quick hitting. However, Brown’s version of the Air Raid takes a little longer to develop than did Mumme’s. The below table explains.
The above information is pretty straight forward and simple to understand. On passing plays, Neal Brown’s 2012 Texas Tech squad took, on average, 2.17 seconds to release the ball after the snap. Mumme’s Kentucky team in 1997 took only 2.04 seconds to release the ball to a receiver. Both techniques did their job effectively and efficiently, but they were slightly different. If we were to estimate where the ball was thrown on the field using this snap-to-pass time we would likely conclude that Brown’s receivers were slightly farther down field than were Mumme’s receivers. This doesn’t mean a system is worse than another because it takes longer to throw the ball, it’s simply a variant on how a team decides to play.
While comparing two different teams using snap-to-pass time is little more than an exercise in personal preference, this, however, can be an effective tool used in evaluating quarterbacks on the same team. Let’s say that a coach is torn between two quarterbacks who are having similar fall camps. In a system heavily reliant on quick passes like the Air Raid, it would likely be more beneficial to select the quarterback with a shorter average snap-to-pass time. Something tells me that Maxwell Smith, Jalen Whitlow, or Patrick Towles’ ability to make a quick decision will be paramount in determining who starts at the quarterback position this season. Of course, I don’t have access to practices to time this for myself (though I work cheap), so this is something that the coaches will have to observe and decide for themselves. However, if Kentucky’s coaches’ past records are any indication on future decision making, we should feel very comfortable going forward.