Sound the alarm. Walters hires Air Assault Coordinator Graham Harrell

In what may amount to the most significant appointment Coach Walters will ever make to his first employee at Purdue, he has hired another up-and-coming young offensive coordinator in Graham Harrell. The 37-year-old offensive mind has worked under some of the best and most influential offensive minds in college football today in Mike Leach, Mike Gundy and Seth Littrell. Well thought of around the country as an innovator himself, Harrell has held the offensive coordinator role at North Texas, Southern California (USC) and West Virginia and has evolved the air strike offensive system since his time at each program. Let’s take a look at who gets Boilermakers and what are some of the aspects of “Air Raid Attack” we can expect to see.

Who is Graham Harrell?

Harrell was a Texas high school football legend from Ennis High School where he won the state title while also setting the record for single season passing yards of 4,825 (on 13 broken in 2007 by Garrett Gilbert on 16 games), a career passing yards of 12 , 532 (broken by Garrett Gilbert in 2008), single-season touchdown passes with 67, career touchdown passes with 167, and single-season pass completions with 334 (broken by Garrett Gilbert).

Harrell would be recruited by one of college football’s preeminent minds to the passing game in Mike Leach at Texas Tech where Harrell set several NCAA records including most passes completed in a season (512), most passes completed in average ​per game in a season (39.4), most passes completed per game in a career (31.2), most games of 400+ yards in a season (11), most games of 400+ yards in a career (20), most seasons gained 4,000+ yards of total offense (3), most games 400+ yards of total offense in a career (21). He was also a 2008 Heisman Trophy finalist (4th place), won the 2008 Johhny Unitas Golden Arm, was the 2008 Sporting News Player of the Year, and was an all-Big 12 player in 2008 posting a 4.0 GPA.

After college, Harrell would play sparingly in the NFL for the Green Bay Packers and New York Jets before entering the coaching ranks with Oklahoma State on Mike Gundy’s staff as quality control and teaching quarterbacks on the new Air Raid system OSU would use after hiring Dana Holgorsen. . In 2014, Harrell joined his former coach at Washington State where he started as an offensive analyst and moved on to coaching outside receivers. In 2015, former Texas Tech operative Seth Littrell was hired in North Texas and his first move was to hire Harrell to run the highly successful Air Raid. Before Harrell was hired, North Texas ranked 25th in the country in passing, total yards, and points, but by 2017 and 2018 the offense ranked 25th nationally in all three categories. Harrell is also set to be the offensive coordinator at USC for Clay Helton from 2019-2021 and finally in 2022 with Neal Brown at West Virginia.

What is an air strike?:

The Air Raid Attack System was developed by the late Mike Leach and Hal Mamie, but gained notoriety by these two systems in Kentucky, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Washington State, and Mississippi State. It features a system where 65-75% of play calls are passed over the course of a season and gives the quarterback the freedom to listen freely at the line of scrimmage for any play based on what they see ahead of time. Air Raid Concepts Overview Air Raid is a simplified passing system that uses multiple receivers to overload zone defenders and select man-defenders.

Harrell has moved away from the 70%+ passing offense used by Mike Leach to a more balanced approach he learned from North Texas HC Seth Littrell where they run the ball 47.8% of the time. In his two seasons with USC, Harrell ran the ball 41% and 43.2% of the time, and that’s likely where next season’s play-by-play call will come with Devin Mockobee being the best offensive returner.

What would Purdue’s offense look like?

Purdue’s offense will likely favor running a lot more than Mike Leach’s offense with a player like Devin Mokobe and will likely look similar to what the USC run in 2020 and 2021 featured Kedon Slovis at quarterback (Slovis is in the gate along with G T Daniels of West Virginia). There will be a lot of crossover from what we saw with Brohm, but Harrell will look for advantages in the running game by using an additional background blocker or by using RPO (Runn-Pass Option) concepts.

In this USC offense there was a lot of RPO and a lot of concepts the Air Raid offense uses a great deal like 4 verts, Mesh, Quick Screens, Shakes, Stick & Corner, All Curls. There are a few examples given of some of the key elements of Harrell’s passing concepts here that will carry over from his time at USC and WVU to Purdue.

4 greens:

The concept of 4-Verts is easy to understand. The offense tries to stretch its defense vertically and horizontally as far as it can by pushing 4 receiving threats down to read what the defense is doing. You can see that each path, except for the corner running back’s path, has points where the receiver can cut his way depending on what type of territory or man coverage the defense is in. This is where Harrell’s ideas of “repeat and execute” come into play in that he believes he can run any game against any coverage as long as it executes. The way you get to that point is through constant repetition (this is where having a QB in his system or something similar would be very helpful).


The network concept is something that’s become a staple of a lot of crime over the last couple of decades but it’s really the foundation of the Air Raid system. In the play shown below, H and Y operate a net (pick) concept in the middle of the field to pressure linebackers who have to defend the speed of an inside receiver and the size/versatility of a TE. The key is reading what the defense is offering and sitting in open spaces against a zone or using the net (pick) to free up receivers against man coverage.


This foundational concept of the air raid trumps the cover 2 defense concept by forcing the safeties to either capture the Y (inside receiver) or leave it open in the middle of the field. The QB makes an easy throwing read by “shaking” the other side of the field where the safeties go. This look below can also be played from every formation that has at least one receiver split wide on either side of the ball.

Stick and angle:

The stick and corner concept is a Mike Leach innovation and can be played on either side of the field. What these concepts do is use three levels of trajectories to emphasize defense by determining where the “open grass” is on the field before the snap (where the midfielders, safety and corners play) and then reading from deep, middle and short in that order on the side of play or vice versa by reading From the inside out. Many will notice the “whiplash” from the inside receiver, and this should give every Purdue fan Vinnie Sutherland the right vibes.

All curls:

The concept of the all-curl path is a very basic idea that sees the quarterback and receivers read the depth defenders give them and decide to curl in 5 or 7 yards usually although it can be pushed down the field depending on downs and distance (it would be silly to push the curl to 10 yards when All you need is 3 yards down first). Key to the effectiveness of this is definitely the delivery of wide receivers with a quarterback who can throw over the shoulder which will lead the receiver to open up because he will have turned around and stopped his momentum.

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