Yesterday, multiple sources reported that the Tar Heels will hire Indiana offensive coordinator Seth Littrell to the same position. He will replace Blake Anderson, who left with Walt Bell for Arkansas State this offseason. Littrell brings a wealth of coaching knowledge with him to North Carolina from coaching stops all around the country. Littrell will deal heavily with Coach Fedora in running a similar offense to what UNC ran last season. Lets take a closer look at Littrell and how he fits at UNC.
Littrell was a graduate assistant at Kansas in the early 2000s, and during his tenure the Jayhawks went to the Tangerine Bowl in 2003. Like all good young coaches, Littrell quickly climbed the coaching ladder, making stops at Texas Tech, Arizona, and Indiana. While at Texas Tech, he coached under Mike Leach, famous for his “Air Raid” offensive scheme. Littrell employed many of those same schemes while at Indiana.
For the ambitious or curious college football fan, check out this link for an in-depth look at the history of the Air Raid offense as well as some nice diagrams from Chris Brown of Smart Football. But for the more casual fan, Wikipedia does a fine job of explaining the basic ideas of the system. From Wikipedia…
The system is designed out of a shotgun formation with four wide receivers and one running back. The formations are a variation of the run and shoot offense with two outside receivers and two inside slot receivers. The offense also utilizes trips formation featuring three wide receivers on one side of the field and a lone single receiver on the other side.
The system is very pass centric, with as much as 60 or 70% of play calls being passes. UNC aimed for balance in their offense last season with equal run and pass, so it remains to be seen if Littrell and Fedora will take the Air Raid principles to the extreme and throw the football a lot more. However, the most likely outcome is if they just take parts of the system and some pass routes for UNC’s new offense.
On first glance, a variation of the Air Raid would seem to work very well for Carolina. Ryan Switzer is a very good option in the slot, and Quinshad Davis could be the vertical threat that stretches the field. Also, Littrell has worked with some very good tight ends, like Ted Bolser at Indiana and Rob Gronkowski at Arizona. While Eric Ebron is gone, Jack Tabb and possibly Bug Howard could be very good at tight end in his place. Those two could also thrive in this offense.
When you look at pure numbers, Littrell’s offense also looks very good. IU ranked 17th in both Passing Yards and Points Scored in the nation last season, and that was with inferior talent to UNC’s team.
One wrinkle that Littrell himself added to the Air Raid scheme is running screen passes to add to the run game. This link here does a great job of explaining Indiana’s screen game and how some of the Xs and Os work. UNC has dabbled quite a bit in the screen game, especially last year. Khris Francis showed great promise catching screens out of the backfield, and Quinshad Davis was on the receiving end of some Tunnel and Jailbreak screens last season. Screen those are easy for Marquise to make, and will work well in North Carolina’s offense going forward.
Seth Littrell and the Air Raid offense should fit very well with North Carolina’s current personnel group, as long as Littrell and the quarterback coach yet to be hired can work on Marquise Williams’s passing accuracy. That last condition however is a big one. The Air Raid offense requires a strong downfield passer, and a smart one to make all the right reads and throws. Marquise showed flashes of being that downfield passer, but needs a lot of work before he can throw the ball as well as Bryn Renner did in the 2012 season. Hiring a good quarterback coach that can point Marquise in the right direction as far as his passing mechanics and skills go will also help.
Overall, Littrell has the weapons and the scheme to succeed at UNC for a long time. Although Marquise Williams isn’t the 100% ideal QB for the Air Raid offense, he might develop into that role. And if not, Mitch Trubisky will be waiting for his shot. Also, expect Littrell to tweak the offense to add more zone read concepts for Marquise and more screens to aid the running game and to play to the strengths of an athletic, young Tar Heel line.