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Neal Brown: Shotgun & Pistol Enthusiast, Wildcat Lover


Just a few short months ago, the University of Kentucky relieved Joker Phillips of his head coaching duties after a season of despair and dysfunction.  After a few weeks of rumor and hysteria, Florida State Defensive Coordinator, Mark Stoops, was brought in to fix the photoshops mess that Joker left behind. Given Stoops’ defensive coaching and recruiting prowess, it was a no-brainer for Mitch Barnhart to bring in Stoops as Kentucky’s newest head man. However, fans (and Stoops) wanted more. Therefore, the call was made to Texas Tech Offensive Coordinator, Neal Brown, to come home to Kentucky. He accepted and brought his exciting and effective Air Raid system with him. While most Kentucky fans are familiar with the Air Raid system due to Hal Mumme and Mike Leach’s teams in the late 90’s, we know little about Brown. Because of this, I took it upon myself to watch every available Texas Tech game from last season to see what makes his offense tick. Nine full games and 557 offensive plays later (no field goals, kicks, or punts), here’s how his offense operates.

nealbrownform      nealbrown3rdform

As is common with the Air Raid system, a vast majority of plays are run out of the shotgun formation, and Brown’s version is no different. Of 557 plays viewed, 77.6% were run out of some variation of the shotgun formation. The most common were Shotgun Spread and Shotgun Trips. In Shotgun Spread, there are two wide receivers on both sides of the field and one running back on either side of the quarterback. In Shotgun Trips, three wide receivers line-up on one side of the field with one receiver on the opposite side. Like its spread counterpart, a running back aligns on either the left or right of the quarterback. Of course, there are slightly different variations of these formations like Shotgun Trips Y-Flex or Shotgun Spread Y-Slot, but in the most basic terms, these are Brown’s favorite shotgun alignments. They can be viewed here.

In Brown’s offense, 19.5% of the 557 viewed plays were run from the Pistol formation. In this alignment, the quarterback lines-up about 3-4 yards behind center with a running back 3-4 yards behind him. In reality, it’s just a slightly modified shotgun formation, but it has its advantages. The main advantage is the quarterback being able to see more of the field. Much like Brown’s shotgun formations, his Pistol formations align similarly. In Pistol Spread, there are two receivers on both sides of the field with a running back behind the quarterback. In Pistol Trips, three receivers align on one side with one receiver on the other. Again, a running back aligns behind the quarterback. While this formation is still used to pass, Brown uses the Pistol to rush at a higher rate. Of the 113 observed plays run out of the Pistol, Texas Tech rushed 49.1% of the time. Sometimes two running backs are on either side of the quarterback, and other times three set up on all sides of the quarterback. This sets up multiple rushing looks and even the wildly popular zone read.

The final scheme Brown uses is the Wildcat formation. If you’re unfamiliar, the Wildcat involves a running back taking the snap in the shotgun. Often times it involves a wide receiver coming into motion near the running back giving the defense another aspect to plan for. Last year, Texas Tech often used this formation in short yardage situations to catch the defense off balance, and it generally worked for that purpose. However, of the 17 plays that I viewed out of this formation, the Red Raiders ran the ball 100% of the time. While this is barely a cause for concern due to how little the formation was used, it’s concerning that a defense will know the rush is coming 100% of the time. The very logical counterpoint to that agrument would be you don’t want your running back passing anyway, but at least implement fear with one or two attempts.

Now that we know the primary formations, how is the Air Raid executed when it comes to the passing game? As it turns out, very well. To measure this, I created a new way to scout the passing game similar to a basketball shot chart. I’ve divided the field into eight zones to not only determine where the ball was being thrown, but how effective a team was throwing into that zone. The image below shows how the field is divided up when the line of scrimmage is on the 30-yard line (moving left-to-right).


Since teams often pass behind the line of scrimmage on screens, Zones 1 and 2 were created. Zones 3-5 were developed to evaluate passes thrown up to 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Finally, Zones 6-8 were developed to evaluate the passing game beyond ten yards from scrimmage. More zones may need to be added in the future, perhaps 10-20 yards from scrimmage, but for now, this is the best tool at our disposal. If you’re having trouble understanding, here’s an example. If a team snaps the ball at the 30-yard line and throws 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage to the right portion of the field, it would be scored as Zone 5. It has nothing to do with where the receiver finishes, only where he catches the ball. The below chart contains Texas Tech’s completion percentage, yards per attempt, and target rate for each zone last season.


As you can see, Brown’s Texas Tech offense had a very balanced passing game as they targeted nearly every portion of the field around equally. While it’s true that the Air Raid system utilizes short passes to somewhat replace the running game, Brown’s offense takes plenty of shots down the field as well. However, this type of deep passing game was somewhat due to the experience of then Senior Quarterback, Seth Doege. Doege, now with the Falcons, had multiple years of experience in Brown’s system, leading him to become the stand-out player he was during his final college season. It’s unlikely that Maxwell Smith, Patrick Towles, or Jalen Whitlow can step up and immediately produce in this system given the talent surrounding them, but when the talent arrives, the numbers will too.

Judging from the information presented, it looks as though Kentucky got the best guy available for the Offensive Coordinator position in Neal Brown. His teams mix up formations, spread the field, and most importantly, are efficient in doing so. This upcoming season may not be an explosive offensive year due to the schedule and returning talent pool, but it’s going to be fun watching quarterbacks sling the ball around from the shotgun formation, which brings me to my final point. As you can see from the first two images, of the 557 offensive plays I observed, only three formations were used; Shotgun, Pistol, and Wildcat. Naturally, this means that absolutely zero plays were run with the quarterback taking a snap under center. Zero. How deep is Brown’s commitment to not taking snaps under center? Deeper than your commitment to absolutely anything. For proof, here’s a link to Texas Tech’s 2011 upset win over Oklahoma. The Red Raiders possessed the ball with 28 seconds remaining while leading 41-38. Typically a team lines up under center and snaps the ball for the final knee, but not Neal Brown, no sir. The Red Raiders took the final knee the only way they knew how, in shotgun formation.

Article written by Jonathan Schuette

22 Comments for Neal Brown: Shotgun & Pistol Enthusiast, Wildcat Lover

  1. Adam
    8:05 pm May 15, 2013 Permalink

    I am so glad that we are going to finally see a real offense and not a series of bubble screens into a group of tacklers on third and long. I know it will take time for us to get all the pieces to make it run as smoothly as we’d like. But at least we have a new sense of hope and the potential to see great things in the near future. I am so FREAKING excited!!!

  2. Benbocat
    8:25 pm May 15, 2013 Permalink

    Did you say where the scrimmage line is in this chart?

  3. Benbocat
    8:27 pm May 15, 2013 Permalink

    Sorry, you did explain that

  4. And??????
    8:53 pm May 15, 2013 Permalink

    5:1…..I like them odds!!!!

  5. Big Whoop
    9:06 pm May 15, 2013 Permalink

    Try Oklahoma when Mike Leach was the OC….Johnstown Douchebag.

  6. OneAndDone
    9:15 pm May 15, 2013 Permalink

    Great read. Thanks for putting the time into it.

  7. Johnstown
    9:19 pm May 15, 2013 Permalink

    11. Oklahoma was 7-5 when Leach was OC. Hardly championship worthy. Want to try again?

  8. Bubbles
    9:26 pm May 15, 2013 Permalink

    Nice charts/stats/intro to offense. I would like to see more of these over the summer.

  9. SKat
    9:32 pm May 15, 2013 Permalink

    Nice work Jonathan. Your mathematical analyses are a welcome addition to the routine KSR posts.

  10. random a-hole
    10:13 pm May 15, 2013 Permalink


    thanks for the hard work to show us what we can expect from the offense.

  11. Sugar Bowl
    10:29 pm May 15, 2013 Permalink

    Nice haircut d-head.

  12. The Original Carl
    10:42 pm May 15, 2013 Permalink

    I’m sure every d-coordinator in the SEC appreciates all of the hard work that you just put in for them

  13. Rowan Atkinson
    10:53 pm May 15, 2013 Permalink

    When did Mr.Bean start coaching football.

  14. Finally
    11:08 pm May 15, 2013 Permalink

    An article worthy of reading on ksr. Thank you very much sir! More stuff with this kind of work\dedication would be much appreciated.

  15. Justin
    11:09 pm May 15, 2013 Permalink

    This is an awesome article! Very well done.

    Thank you and hopefully we continue to get these articles leading up to season

  16. The King
    11:29 pm May 15, 2013 Permalink

    If there is a single DC in the SEC who did not/would not have had this information without KSR then he should be looking for a new job. What Jonathan did is impressive, taking nothing away from that, but major D1 schools should have stats on these type of things and more.

    But if they don’t, Jonathan is building a nice resume. Btw and you may have covered this a long time ago, but do you do for a living? If student, what are you studying? I have a MS in global supply chain mgmt and nearly a MS in industrial engineering so the stats are always interesting to me.

  17. Jonathan Schuette
    11:55 pm May 15, 2013 Permalink

    Thanks for all the input guys, I really appreciate it! And #16 “The King,” I’m currently a student at UK. I’ll be getting my BA in Economics this December.

  18. Otis
    1:25 am May 16, 2013 Permalink

    Great stats


  19. KyJake
    8:21 am May 16, 2013 Permalink

    Jonathan – this was an extremely well researched and well done piece. Keep up the great work. The stat nerds among us really appreciate this kind of effort, and really gave us a feel for the type of offensive looks we can expect to see next season.

  20. BigBlueCardsFan
    8:39 am May 16, 2013 Permalink

    I look for Brown to get us to the top tier of the SEC by next season if UK was in the Big Ten or Big 12 this year or last they would easily have won it.

  21. gvillecat
    11:01 am May 16, 2013 Permalink

    Well done Jonathan. Matt needs to lock you up to a long term deal.

  22. Kennybuckets
    11:46 am May 16, 2013 Permalink

    A future fellow economist…I should have known. We run shit. HA!

    This post is a well-researched effort with relevant, statistically supported narrative. Nice work Jonathan…keep it up. Agree with 21.