USF will see a continuation of last year’s offense this upcoming fall as offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert will be able to install his system with a blank slate without the Quinton Flowers ran Gulf Coast Offense looming over his head.
To understand what Gilbert is trying to to do, we will look into the history of the veer and shoot offense that he specializes in, what it looks like, what it does best, and some of the teams that have ran it.
The “veer and shoot” offense is a variation of the “run and shoot” that June Jones made famous at Hawaii with quarterback Colt Brennan. The name run and shoot comes from the receivers running to the open part of the field and the QB shooting the ball to them.
At their peak in 2007, Hawaii was a Cinderella story in college football, leading the nation in points per game by putting up 43.4 per contest. Brennan was the star QB, throwing for over 4,300 yards, 38 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions. Hawaii threw the ball a lot, averaging 51 attempts a game compared to only 20 rushes a game.
Warriors running backs averaged at least five yards a carry and were known to sneak out of the back field as a safety valve for Brennan if his deep threats weren’t open or if he didn’t run it himself.
Today, the run and shoot and air raid offenses have molded together. But back in the early 2000’s, the main differences were that the run and shoot was option-route based during the play and air raid relied on pre-snap looks and mismatches to get open.
This concept of run and shoot and the power running offense influenced the modern day veer and shoot.
The veer and shoot works to set up the run by passing the ball, rather than running to set up the pass. Art Briles took this system and molded it beautifully with Robert Griffin III at Baylor, producing a top-five offense in 2011.
As mentioned, the concept of option-routes for the wide receivers was taken from the run and shoot and developed alongside the spread-option run style for the quarterbacks, running backs, and offensive line. When Art Briles coached at Baylor, he had three assistants during his time who went on to become head coaches or offensive coordinators.
Dino Babers is the head coach of Syracuse, Phillip Montgomery is the head coach at Tulsa, and Kendal Briles is the OC at Houston. Gilbert and Babers coached together at Eastern Illinois and then at Bowling Green, before Sterlin moved to Tulsa with Montgomery.
The four of these are the successors to the Art Briles offense, with his son Kendal having the most success.
The personnel for veer and shoot is similar to the spread offense - a quarterback in shotgun with some mixture of running backs, tight ends, and wide receivers. The personnel groupings are listed with the number of running backs and tight ends on the field, with the receivers filling the void as the leftover players to get to eleven players on offense.
That sounds confusing but it’s simple. A common personnel grouping would be “11” personnel, with one running back one tight end, and three receivers. “12” personnel is one running back with two tight ends and two receivers. “21” is two running backs, one tight end and two receivers and etc.
The key thing to remember is the first number will be the amount of running backs on the field, and the second number is the amount of tight ends on the field. Last year, Gilbert ran mostly 11 and 12 personnel with Mitchell Wilcox and Elkanah Dillon as his primary tight ends.
Occasionally on goal line situations, he would bring in an extra offensive linemen and take out a receiver, but would always keep his tight ends in the game because of their dual threat as blockers and receiving tagets.
Goal line is also a situation in which the QB may take a few snaps under center to give the defense a different look and set up a quick snap or a play action pass.
Passing to Set Up the Run
As I mentioned previously, the design of the veer and shoot offense is to pass the ball to set up the power run, where a defense has to worry about the deep shots first before worrying about running the football.
Most traditional programs such as Navy, Army, and Stanford work the opposite where you might see them running the ball upwards of 90% of the time before taking that one deep shot that beats a secondary who got caught up staring at the run.
The veer and shoot looks to do the opposite, where the secondary and linebackers are so consumed with the passing game, that a running back might blow right past them.
We saw it a few times last year, a great example being Darius Tice’s touchdown run vs. Temple.
All throughout the first quarter, the receivers were running deep routes and blocking down field when needed. On Tice’s touchdown run in a 12 personnel, the two defensive backs on the top of the screen were so focused on the receivers that neither of them saw what was happening during the play.
That resulted in Tice scorching past the entire Owl defense straight up the gut for a 47-yard score.
An example from an Art Briles offense was in 2011, with Baylor taking on Washington in the Alamo Bowl.
RGIII was obviously the star quarterback for the team but running back Terrance Gannaway had his flashy moments, and in the middle of the third quarter, he broke off an 89-yard touchdown run straight up the gut.
This play was helped set up the fact that Washington’s safeties were nearly 20 yards off the ball when the play was snapped on a 1st and 10 inside the Baylor 15 yard line. It happened at the end of the game as well, with Baylor having the ball at the Washington 42 on 2nd and 3.
The secondary continued to play deep, so concerned with Griffin’s arm in the passing game that they gave up a long touchdown run to put the Alamo Bowl out of reach.
Although RGIII threw for over 300 yards, the Bears’ rushing attack put up 482 yards on the ground, with Gannaway accounting 200 of them and five touchdowns. (Washington fired nearly their entire defensive staff two days after the game.)
Now, this isn’t to say that the offense won’t throw the ball when needed. You’ll see quarterbacks throw for huge amount of yards on big chunk plays.
Flowers threw for over 500 yards in the War on I-4 at C. last year because the defense was still so consumed with the running game that they were leaving receivers with one on one coverage, allowing Tyre McCants and Darnell Salomon to go for over 300 yards combined.
However, just as easily that an offense will throw for 500, they will run for huge yardage as well. Baylor vs. Washington in the Alamo Bowl is a prime example.
The Type of Quarterback You Want
Looking at the veer and shoot offense, you’re going to need a very niche quarterback to fit the system. You need a QB with a big, accurate arm that has the abilities to read a defense and run the ball if he needs to get out of sticky situations.
One of RGIII’s biggest strengths to go along with his ability to run the ball was him being able to keep his eyes downfield to look for deep passes and thread the needle.
In the limited film available on Barnett, he was able to effectively look off a safety to open up the middle of the field for a long gain. He also showed his mobility by rolling out of the pocket and scrambling for a few yards.
Although he was pulled for Jalen Hurts during the game against USC, he came in the 4th quarter and delivered a strong quick strike on a slant, as well as a long accurate corner route throw for a TD.
The Bulls are hoping to build off some of those traits and have Barnett lead the way in 2018.
The Success and Shortcomings of the Veer and Shoot
The veer and shoot produces a lot of yards during the game. However, the big complaint with this offense is the tempo that goes along with it.
Typically, a veer and shoot offense will average over 80 snaps and 500 yards a game, with the NCAA average of snaps per game being in the lower 70’s. Last year, USF averaged 83.4 snaps and 513.0 yards per game. The Bulls obviously had a relatively successful year at 10-2.
In 2011, the Baylor Bears went 10-3, accumulating 587.1 yards on 76.9 plays per game. That veer and shoot team is often put on a pedestal for its efficiency.
When going head to head against their opponents, Baylor averaged 100 yards more, while having a nearly identically number of plays per game. USF was on pace to do something similar in 2017, averaging nine more plays and over 150 yards than their opponents per game.
What mattered most is the average yards per play. While Baylor was averaging 7.6, USF averaged 6.1. This means that USF was averaging the second most amount of plays per game, but were 21st in yards per play.
A version of the veer and shoot that is considered not as successful was the 2015 Tulsa Golden Hurricanes. Gilbert was the offensive coordinator of a team that went 6-7, but looking at the stats will raise some questions.
Offensively, 2015 Tulsa looked similar to USF and Baylor, accumulating 507 yards on 83.3 plays per game. Quarterback Dane Evans threw for 4,332 yards and had a completion percentage of 63.2%. The running game was weaker in comparison, averaging only 175 yards a game and that ended being only the second biggest difference maker for Tulsa that year.
The biggest difference was their defense (or lack thereof). Tulsa’s D gave up 536 yards per game and ended it up costing them in contests against Cincinnati and the 2015 Independence Bowl vs. Virginia Tech.
So when does the veer and shoot not work? It’s when your personnel doesn’t fit the mold.
Dino Babers at Syracuse is a prime example of the system not fitting for the players that are there. The year before Babers was hired, Syracuse went 4-8 in 2015. In 2016 and 2017, they also went 4-8, with only slight improvement in the offense going from 25.7 points and 440 yards per game to 27.4 points and 460 yards per game.
The problem for Babers is trying to steer away from former coach Scott Shafer/Tim Lester’s offense of a sluggish read option attack. QB Eric Dungey took over in 2015, and is more of a scrambling quarterback than a pocket passer that a veer and shoot offense looks for. Despite what the stats look like, there’s belief in New York that the root of the problems don’t lie on the offense.
Once again, the fingers are being pointed to the defensive side of the ball, with Bill Connelly noting in his preview of Syracuse for the 2018 season:
I know what you’re thinking: it’s the offense, right? The tempo and explosiveness of the Babers offense wears the defense out late in the season. That has to be it, right?
That certainly didn’t help at BGSU, where the Falcons’ D was on the field for 1,156 plays in 2014 (second-most in FBS) and 1,084 in 2015 (third-most). But in his two seasons in New York, Cuse’s defense has been in the bottom 40 in total snaps both years. And it’s cratered all the same.
Taking the offense out of the conversation for a moment, there’s no question that Syracuse isn’t playing enough defenders. Maybe that’s a stylistic decision by coordinator Brian Ward — some teams (Iowa under Kirk Ferentz, USC under coordinator Clancy Pendergast) just don’t play a lot of guys — but more likely, it’s a sign of awful depth
So it seems that when it comes down to the veer and shoot, the offense is going to get the yards and touchdowns needed but it’s up to the defense to make the stops needed to win the game.
As my high school football football coach once said, “Football ain’t hard. All you gotta do is score on offense and stop them on defense and you’ll win the football game.”
What Can We Expect This Fall?
The million dollar question for Bulls fans is what is the offense going to do in the fall. As I mentioned, USF’s offense wasn’t horrible by any stretch of the imagination last year. A top-10 scoring offense is a top-10 scoring offense.
As far as play calling goes, knowing Barnett’s style and what Gilbert prefers out of the veer and shoot, we can expect to see a lot of read-pass options that Baylor ran in 2011. Instead of how the Gulf Coast Offense was executed where the QB has to use pre-snap reads looking for mismatches, the QB will need to read the defense during the play and know where his best options are.
At times this can be frustrating, as Barnett will have a one in three shot of being right. There will be times in games where the offense goes three and out, the run game doesn’t get going, and passes won’t be completed.
However, the offense has the potential to blow up with long runs, deep passes, and drives that chip away at a defense.
For USF, the difference maker in some of the big games this year will be being consistent in play style and getting turnovers on defense that are capitalized with points.
When looking back at the Houston game last year, the offense was able to move the ball by throwing for 325 yards and added a few rushing touchdowns. USF’s downfall this game was not capitalizing with points.
The Bulls had two chances on the Cougars’ side of the field to come away with field goals, and both times they failed on a 4th down conversion. If Emilio Nadelman makes both of those field goals, we are looking at that game possibly ending up a 31-28 win instead of 28-24 loss. Also, the defense needs to not give up a 4th and 24 at the end of the game.
So in three words, I can describe how the offense will look: Fun and Frustrating.