Mississippi State Football: Examining Jeff Lebby’s Offense

Oklahoma offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby claps and shouts as the Oklahoma Sooners warm up before a college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the TCU Horned Frogs at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. Oklahoma won 69-45.
Oklahoma offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby claps and shouts as the Oklahoma Sooners warm up before a college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the TCU Horned Frogs at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. Oklahoma won 69-45. /

Mississippi State football has hired its next head coach. Jeff Lebby comes in after stints as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, Ole Miss, and UCF, and he has a track record of producing some of the nation’s best offenses. What can we expect out of Jeff Lebby’s offense?

A new era of Mississippi State football is officially underway. Sunday night, the university announced the hire of Oklahoma OC Jeff Lebby as the Bulldogs’ next head coach. Lebby comes to Starkville with a impressive pedigree on the offensive side of the ball. Throughout his career, he’s called some of the nation’s most explosive and highest-scoring attacks.

In each of his five years as an OC, Lebby’s offenses have averaged at least 33 PPG and 470 YPG. His 2019 UCF and 2023 Oklahoma offenses both averaged 43 PPG and over 500 total yards. It’s reason for excitement for a Mississippi State fanbase that’s grown desperate to watch an exciting offense on the field after an incredibly frustrating 2023 season.

Let’s take a look at Lebby’s offensive background and some of what fans can expect from his teams in Starkville…

Jeff Lebby’s offensive influences and style

Jeff Lebby got his start in coaching as a student assistant at his alma mater, Oklahoma. He spent one year coaching HS football before joining Art Briles staff at Baylor in 2008. Lebby held various roles in Waco through 2016. During this time at Baylor, Briles developed a nearly unstoppable offensive system that in recent years has been dubbed the “Veer and Shoot”. It was with this offense that Robert Griffin III won the Heisman in 2011, and Baylor won consecutive Big 12 titles in 2013 and 2014.

The 2015 Baylor football scandal led to the firing of Art Briles, and after the 2016 season, the remaining members of Briles’ staff, including Lebby, were dismissed. Lebby served as the OC for NAIA Southeastern in 2017. He joined Josh Heupel at UCF in 2018 as the Knights’ QB Coach and was promoted to OC in 2019. In 2020, Lane Kiffin hired Lebby as his OC at Ole Miss, and in 2022, he returned to his alma mater, serving the same role under Brent Venables.

Much of what Jeff Lebby does offensively is inspired by the Veer and Shoot offenses he was a part of at Baylor, although they weren’t calling it the Veer and Shoot at that time. For those looking for a quick mental image of what that offense looks like but don’t quite remember those Baylor teams, think of the Tennessee offense you’ve seen the last few years under Josh Huepel. It’s the same offense Lebby called as Huepel’s OC at UCF. Lebby blended the offense with Lane Kiffin’s passing game while at Ole Miss for a hybridized version of the system, and at Oklahoma, he taken some of those ideas plus mixed in wrinkles of his own to create his own brand of offense.

The basic ideas of the Veer and Shoot are all present within Lebby’s offense (and we’ll discuss what those are shortly). He just doesn’t quite live in the purest, most extreme version of that system, having mixed in a wider array of concepts and looks. You can almost think about it like comparing Mike Leach to one of his disciples like Lincoln Riley. Riley still has many of the core concepts and philosophies of the Leach Air Raid. But he’s mixed in a lot more variety to the offense to modernize things. Lebby has taken a similar approach in building his brand of Veer and Shoot.

So what is the Veer and Shoot?

The Veer and Shoot offense

The Veer and Shoot offense is a version of the spread that takes “spread offense” to the extreme. The system is predicated on maximizing the spacing of the field to stress defenses to their limits, creating both favorable looks to run the football as well as isolating receivers for opportunities in the pass game.

The Veer and Shoot moniker was coined by football-scheme analyst Ian Boyd, who now writes for On3’s Inside Texas and runs the blog America’s War Game, while writing for SB Nation’s Football Study Hall. Ian’s works are easily the best resources on grasping the offense. Here’s a link to his most in-depth breakdown (for subscribers) as well as another with various articles he’s written regarding the system.

The name plays on two of the offenses’ defining features and some potential influences for Briles when creating it. Art Briles played at Houston under Bill Yeoman, who invented the Veer Option offense. Though the Briles system looks nothing like the old school Veer, the same triple option elements of the Veer can be found through the RPO game within Briles’ offense. And Briles is on record in saying that he kept some Veer terminology for his offense.

The Briles system also takes from the Run and Shoot, the Air Raid’s older cousin that relies on option routes by WRs to attack the defense. Much of the deep passing game in the Briles offense came off their Deep Choice series. Essentially, one WR would run a deep option route with the freedom to simply run to open space based on the leverage of the DBs while other WRs would run routes meant to draw coverage away from the deep option. As long as the deep WR reads it right, he should be wide open, and at Baylor, they always were.

With those two ideas in mind, Ian Boyd dubbed the Briles offense the Veer and Shoot. Often, the RPO and Deep Choice game made up about 90% of the offense that Briles ran during his peak seasons at Baylor. By pairing those philosophies with maximum splits by the WRs, lining them up just off the sidelines, and a hyper-fast tempo, he built the closest thing we’ve ever seen to a cheat code offense in the sport. And though Jeff Lebby no longer calls the offense in quite that extreme a manner (despite the cheat code nature of it, there are some limitations to playing that way), he still features those core ideas and concepts.

The Veer and Shoot within Lebby’s offense

Because Jeff Lebby is a member of the Veer and Shoot tree and still bases his offense around a lot of those philosophies, let’s first look at a few examples of how Lebby employs some Veer and Shoot concepts. One of the biggest defining features of the offense is the splits by the WRs. Veer and Shoot teams will spread their WRs out nearly to the sidelines to create maximum spacing across the field.

Keeping your WRs that far away from the OL forces defenders to declare their intentions to the QB. They have to pick whether they’ll align to defend the run or the pass, and it’s nearly impossible for them to be in position to defend both. Power Spread teams figured out a long time ago that if you go 4-wide, you’re probably going to get favorable looks to run the ball. And off of that, you can then pick on open field defenders in run support with the RPO game. The Veer and Shoot takes that idea and amplifies it 10x.

But there are some limitations by splitting your WRs out that wide. Most notably, you limit your route tree, as there isn’t the space to run out-breaking routes and crossing patterns take longer to develop. You also need a QB who can consistently connect on those throws outside the numbers. When you watch Lebby’s teams, they still use the wide splits, but they’re more an occasionally featured look within the offense as opposed to the standard one.

Lebby gets into a lot more “traditional” spread formations over the course of a game and even mixes in plenty of condensed sets. Even when he does call for wide splits, his WRs aren’t aligned quite as wide as what you’d see out of Tennessee. The wider array of formations and less extreme alignments allow for more diversity with pass concepts

Still when utilized, those splits create great opportunities to run the ball downhill against favorable looks. Here’s Oklahoma running Iso for a TD (although I’m fairly certain Lebby actually considers this to be his own version of “Zone Insert”). Notice you don’t see any WRs on this play. That’s because both outside WRs are outside the numbers and the slot receiver to the left is outside the hash mark. This effectively takes the secondary completely out of position to help stop the run.

The splits also clean up the reads for QBs in the RPO game. The wide splits force the defense to more clearly declare the box count, and key defenders are put into more conflict with more ground to cover. With the single WR split outside the numbers, there’s no way for the defense to muddy up the read for the QB to throw the glance route. If the boundary safety plays the run, the WR has all the space in the world to beat the CB one-on-one, and the QB has an easy completion.

Finally the wide splits are key to executing the Deep Choice game. The Deep Choice is about exploiting matchups. The wide splits help allow your best WR to be isolated against an out-matched DB and force the safeties to cover more space to protect overtop. Add in play-action to further create hesitation from the safeties, and it truly becomes a case of your best receiver just running deep to open space. It’s stealing yards and points.

How Lebby has evolved the offense

I’ve mentioned a few times that Lebby isn’t strictly running the pure Veer and Shoot anymore. You’ll likely hear several analysts suggest that Mississippi State is now running the same offense as Tennessee, but that’s not entirely the case. The offenses are definitely similar in that they share the same core principles and several concepts. Lebby did, of course, work with Josh Huepel at UCF to help run the same offense Huepel eventually took to Knoxville.

But since going to Oklahoma, Lebby has made his own version of the Veer and Shoot. Whereas Tennessee is largely running the exact same offense that the Briles Baylor teams did (with a few Huepel wrinkles mixed in), Jeff Lebby took that attack as a foundation and has adapted it with several tweaks and all around more variety. Lebby’s offenses have more formations, utilize motion far more frequently, and are more diverse with their passing attack.

Why these adjustments? As stated earlier, despite the pure Veer and Shoot’s effectiveness, it does have limitations. Without getting too deep into the weeds, modern defenses have learned how to better handle tempo and RPOs, two things that the Veer and Shoot thrives on. They’ve also found ways to use some of the pure Veer and Shoot’s simplicity against it. When the inside run game is going for minimal gains and the shot plays downfield aren’t connecting, teams like Tennessee don’t have many answers for moving the ball.

That’s not at all to say the purest version of the system no longer works. It absolutely still does, and there are only a handful of defenses truly equipped to stop it whether it be by talent or scheme. But you also need a certain skillset from your QB and WRs to make it work to perfection. You must have WRs that can consistently win one-on-one downfield, and your QB has to be accurate with those throws. When you don’t have those pieces, you can run into problems. Just look at Tennessee with Hendon Hooker and Jalin Hyatt compared to without.

Jeff Lebby has made the adjustments he has largely to throw more looks at defenses and keep them on their heels. It’s still a relatively simple offense for the players to learn. There’s just a lot more window dressing to it and a few more concepts sprinkled in for more versatility. So what does that look like? One tactic is to do the opposite of what the Veer and Shoot typically looks to do and actually bring the WRs in tight to the formation in condensed sets.

Condensed formations are great for messing with a defense’s coverage rules in both man and zone and stressing the perimeter. You can more easily create a free release for a receiver out of a condensed set. Lebby also does more with shifts and motions. The tempo of the Veer and Shoot tends to make formations a bit more stagnant. If you want to snap the ball as quickly as possible between plays, you don’t want to take time to move players around pre-snap. Lebby still believes in going fast, but the added value in changing the picture for the defense is worth it.

Beyond that, Lebby has implemented more “traditional” passing concepts to the arsenal. Whether it be Y-Cross, Smash variations, Curls, Mesh, rollouts, and a deeper play-action repertoire, Lebby’s offense has more answers for more situations. The run game is a bit more diverse too. The Veer and Shoot tends to lean more on downhill, between-the-tackles runs due to it’s extreme spacing, but Lebby uses more perimeter rushing concepts as well.

If there’s anything Jeff Lebby has proven throughout his coaching career, it’s that he amongst the best offensive minds in the country. It’s impossible to know for sure how successful he’ll be as a head coach leading his own program. But you can be confident his teams will score points, and that will certainly be a welcome change for Mississippi State football.

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