The success of Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense is predicated on one beautiful football acronym, YAC. The shorthand for “yards after catch,” the Air Raid is an efficient passing offense because it does not force quarterbacks to make incredibly difficult throws. The goal is to get the ball to the wide receivers and let the athletes make plays in space.
“It’s the hidden yards that add up on you. Those receivers do a nice job, they catch a ball for four and they roll over their shoulder and all of a sudden it’s a six-yard gain. Instead of second and six, it’s second and four, or instead of third and four it’s third and one,” said Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad White.
“They’re really well coached and this system’s been successful for decades, so obviously it’s going to be a huge challenge for us to be patient too. What you can’t be is impatient and feel like — they’re going to get yards and they’re going to make catches and they’re going to make plays, but when they catch it we have to drive. Tackling is of the utmost importance because we have to pin the ball to the ground and give ourselves a chance to play the next play.”
Miss. State’s YAC has defined their offense’s success in the first two weeks of the season. Against LSU the Bulldogs gained 8.4 yards after catch per reception, totaling 632 yards of offense. In a losing effort the following week, Miss. State accumulated 400 yards while only gaining 3.2 YAC per reception. To replicate the Razorbacks’ success, this week’s point of emphasis for the UK defense is simple: get to the ball.
“Everyone is focused on breaking on the ball and being where we need to be as far as our pass drops.” Middle linebacker Jamin Davis is putting an extra personal emphasis on playing patiently; “Being slow to go on my feet, making sure that I’m not drifting too much in my hook drops and making sure that I’m being on one string with not only (DeAndre) Square, but everybody else on the back end of the defense.”
‘Playing on a string’ does not mean that the team must practice performing a high-wire act. In a zone defense, everyone in pass coverage must defend as one, pushing and pulling together to prevent the Bulldogs from finding holes in the defense.
“I think the Air Raid puts stress on the whole defense,” said senior outside linebacker Boogie Watson. “We’re doing a lot of dropping (into coverage). They’re going to take a lot of shots and they’re going to spread us out on defense, so I think us as a defense, especially on the back end, being on one string, moving all together when the ball is thrown, everyone driving, getting to the ball down to the ground. They like to get a lot of hidden yard after catches. Their receivers I know have gained a lot of YAC yards. The back eight, the back half of the defense has to be all on one string as well as the linebackers in drop coverage.”
The Kentucky defense is still searching for an identity. They cannot find it playing for individual glory. In order for the defense to step up to this challenge, all 11 players must do their specific job well so the entire defense can function as one.
“Everybody’s ready to get that first win on the board. We know that we let two slip away. We haven’t put out the best film as a defense as a whole and we know there’s much to improve upon — there’s much better we can do as a defense. I think everybody’s intrigued and anxious to show how good of a defense we really can be,” said Watson.
If the Wildcats eliminate the big plays, play patient and tackle in the open field, Kentucky can cut off the Air Raid’s lifeblood, YAC.