Dawson eager to put own stamp on 'Air Raid'

The lure of putting his own personal stamp on the “Air Raid” offense helped bring Shannon Dawson to Kentucky.

Meeting with the local media for the first time Wednesday, the Wildcats’ new offensive coordinator said fans should expect some of the familiar and a few twists as he takes over for Neal Brown.

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“The game has changed,” said the 37-year-old Dawson, who got his start in the coaching field under “Air Raid” founding father Hal Mumme. “The blueprint of the offense really hasn’t (changed) if you want to be completely honest. Are there some things we are doing different now that we didn’t do before? Yes, but the blueprint of the offense and the mentality is still the same. We want to attack.”

Dawson, a Louisiana native who comes to UK after spending the last four seasons at West Virginia, says defenses have forced coordinators in the “Air Raid” coaching tree to adapt.

In other words: Big Blue Nation shouldn’t expect to see the same look that Mumme and Tim Couch made wildly popular in the late 90s.

“Defenses have changed over the years,” Dawson said. “They are a lot more athletic and a lot more physical, and the players are getting bigger and stronger. I think even if you talked to Coach Mumme about it, he would tell you the game has changed.”

He once had a quarterback at Stephen F. Austin throw 85 passes in a game. But don’t expect to see anything like that happen again, especially in a league known for being able to pressure the quarterback.

“If you want quarterbacks staying on their feet and staying healthy,” Dawson said, “good luck with that in today’s football. Those d-linemen are rushing pretty fast. We are going to do some things that keep defenses honest and keep them off-balance.”

He’s not even sure if we should keep using the “Air Raid” term.

“The term Air Raid gets thrown around a lot,” Dawson said. “It is kind of like 15 years ago when the 49ers were talking West Coast Offense, and everybody was talking about West Coast Offense. But that term got watered down to where it was hard to even tell what it was. I kind of think the air raid offense has gotten to that point.”

No matter what you call it, one thing is certain: the run element of his offense will be more prominent. West Virginia had one of the most balanced attacks in the nation this season, averaging 314.6 yards through the air and 187 yards on the ground to rank 11th nationally in total offense.

Finding that balance was a big key when UK head coach Mark Stoops set out to find a replacement for Brown, who took the head coaching job at Troy University in December.

“We made a concerted effort at West Virginia this past year to get physical and be able to run the ball more efficient,” Dawson said. The Mountaineers averaged 44 rushing attempts per game (and a healthy 4.6 yards per carry) while still producing a 3,000-yard passer.

“Not that we are sitting there adding 100 more runs plays into the offense,” he added. “We still have those run plays. It is simply the fact that we are calling it a little more and turning and handing it off a little more. It is simply that we are allowing those offensive linemen to be more physical and leverage on leverage stuff.”

Dawson noted that West Virginia was far more efficient throwing the ball when it was making that concerted effort to be physical in the run game.

Kentucky was inconsistent in the running game this season, finishing 11th in the SEC at only 153.3 yards per game.

Dawson hasn’t had an opportunity to watch much UK game film from 2014 or get too familiar with his personnel. That will change soon after the Cats’ 2015 recruiting efforts are wrapped up. He did say, however, that all positions should be open to competition in the spring.

The Cats are expected to have a three-man battle at the quarterback position between junior Patrick Towles (last year’s starter), sophomore Reese Phillips and redshirt freshman Drew Barker.

“Oh yeah, we’re going to compete,” Dawson said. “You’re going to have to earn your stripes. We’re going to give those guys an opportunity to compete just like I’ve done everywhere else, and whoever is the most efficient guy is going to play. That position is just like any other position.”


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