USC FOOTBALL NEWS

Graham Harrell’s Air Raid aims to give USC football identity

SAN DIEGO, CA - AUGUST 09: Quarterback Graham Harrell #6 of the Green Bay Packers throws a pass against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on August 9, 2012 in San Diego, California. The Chargers won 21-13. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - AUGUST 09: Quarterback Graham Harrell #6 of the Green Bay Packers throws a pass against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on August 9, 2012 in San Diego, California. The Chargers won 21-13. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images) /
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New USC football offensive coordinator Graham Harrell is looking to bring an identity to the Trojan offense. It’s one built on simplicity and execution.

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The past three years under head coach Clay Helton have been defined by one question: What is USC football’s offensive identity?

For two years with Sam Darnold at the helm, the identity seemed to be…Sam Darnold. Even when he was using his skill and improvisation to keep the Trojans chugging along, concerns about USC’s lack of identity were raised.

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In 2018, those concerns came to a head as the Darnold-less offense muddled through games, looking bright in moments before slumping ineffectively for quarters at a time.

Asked what USC’s identity was, Helton would often reply: Balance.

Over the past three years, the Trojans have tried to do a little bit of everything. In doing so, they became the personification of the adage: Jack of all trades, master of none.

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New offensive coordinator Graham Harrell is aiming to change that.

On Monday, Harrell spoke to the media for the first time in his new role. His comments were telling and encouraging when it came to addressing some of those criticisms of USC’s offense going back years.

A disciple of Mike Leach’s Air Raid, Harrell relayed some of the key lessons he learned from Washington State’s head coach.

There’s nothing secret or magic about the Air Raid, Harrell said. It’s just about simplification and execution.

What does Leach do better than anyone? He doesn’t get caught up trying to replicate all the great offensive concepts around college football. He picks a few things and he focuses on doing them perfectly.

“It’s an identity. It says this is who we are and we’re going to be good at what we do.”</p><p>

“The Air Raid is more of a philosophy than actual Xs and Os,” Harrell said. “The philosophy is keep it easy and let the guys go play…It’s an identity. It says this is who we are and we’re going to be good at what we do.”

In that sense, Harrell is from Leach’s tree, but running the Air Raid doesn’t mean reading from the same hymnal as Leach did at Texas Tech or does at Washingon State.

“We’re not exactly what Leach is, no one is exactly what Leach is,” he said.

Harrell’s Air Raid is built on the same core philosophies:

  • Be loose
  • Have fun
  • Don’t overthink it
  • Keep it simple
  • Get your playmakers in space
  • Let them do what they do

But Harrell’s version of the Air Raid also recognizes the importance of a run game. You can’t expect your quarterback to be on it for 14 straight weeks, or more. The best way to take pressure off him is to establish the run, the OC said.

The Trojans have the talent available to run and pass in equal measure, the trick is putting players in the right position to maximize their abilities.

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“If you can eliminate thinking and just bring them out to play, then you’re going to put them in position to be successful and they’re going to do great,” Harrell said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Nowhere is that more important than at quarterback.

“If the quarterback is overthinking, then I’m not doing my job,” Harrell said.

Harrell had an example from his time in the NFL playing for Green Bay. Coming from Leach’s Air Raid at Texas Tech, the West Coast offense of the Packers was a major change, with long and complicated concepts filling each playcall.

“It was like a badge of honor that they could remember a paragraph,” Harrell said. “I was like ‘it’s great you can remember a paragraph but I can’t remember the paragraph and neither can anyone in here, so you’re not doing us any favors.'”

Doing the quarterbacks favors is a fundamental part of Harrell’s philosophy. Playcalling is part of that.

According to Harrell, Leach used to tell his passers, “What I give you is a suggestion, you call whatever you want.”

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Harrell isn’t that free-wheeling, but he will encourage his quarterbacks to adjust based on what they see. They will have freedom to check routes and even plays at the line, so long as they go fast.

“Don’t think, play,” Harrell emphasizes.

After three years of enduring USC’s “gumbo” offense, an identity built on simplicity and execution above all else sounds like a breath of fresh air.

It is precisely what the Trojans hoped to get in hiring Kliff Kingsbury in December and in Harrell, Helton identified a replacement offensive coordinator capable of bringing the same refreshing concepts to Los Angeles.

The hard work starts when Spring Camp launches on March 5, but Harrell has already begun to brighten the dark skies over USC.

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