Mike Locksley’s “Multiple” Offense
Image Credit: Sporting News
Last week, I wrote overall reviews of each Big Ten team’s offensive and defensive styles. Within the offensive preview, I listed Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley’s offense as “Multiple”. Obviously this is a very vague categorization, so I wanted to expand on exactly what makes his offense “multiple” and also look at some of the key characteristics of his offense.
(Discuss this article on the BSL Message Board here.)
What is “Multiple”?
First things first, let’s get the categorization of “multiple” out of the way. The reason why I classified Mike Locksley’s offense as “multiple” is because there is no clear category into which his offense falls. It is not solely a pro-style offense, though his passing game has many elements of a pro-style scheme. Pro-style offenses always feature a downhill running game from under center, and C.J. Brown only went under center in short-yardage or goal-line situations last season. It is not solely a spread offense, though the running game has many elements of a spread-option scheme.
Mike Locksley’s offense combines elements of pro-style and spread attacks, and he also steals elements from Chris Ault’s famous pistol offense. Locksley coached a spread offense at Illinois when he was the offensive coordinator there from 2005-2008. The quarterback was almost always in the shotgun formation, and often had 4-5 wide receivers split out. When he went to New Mexico, he ran more of a pro-style scheme. Personnel has always dictated what offense Locksley runs, and the Terps are more well-suited for a “multiple” scheme.
When C.J. Brown tore his ACL before the 2012 season began, Maryland was forced to turn to true freshman Perry Hills at quarterback. Not only was Hills inexperienced, but he had a completely different skill-set from Brown. Hills was more of a pocket passer, while Brown was a dual-threat. Locksley’s offense went from a spread-option attack to a pro-style attack in a matter of days. Hills lined up under center a lot more, and the read-option was a much smaller part of the offense.
When C.J. Brown returned in 2013, Maryland fans saw a completely different offense. It was more explosive because the entire playbook was opened up for Brown. He’d had the entire off-season to learn his offense, and was able to run it very well. While Mike Locksley doesn’t need a superstar at the quarterback position for his offense to succeed, he needs someone who can make the right reads quickly and efficiently. C.J. Brown did that very well for him last season.
Mike Locksley normally operates out of 11 personnel, meaning that there is 1 running back, 1 tight end, and 3 wide receivers on the field at the same time. Most of his formations are run with this personnel, allowing the Terps to avoid substitutions and go faster. There are shotgun, pistol, and single-back formations in Locksley’s playbook that feature 11 personnel. Having a versatile tight end is crucial for success in this offense, as Dave Stinebaugh moved all over the field for the Terps in 2013.
10 personnel is also used a lot, meaning that there is 1 running back, 0 tight ends, and 4 wide receivers on the field at the same time. Much of the Terps’ deep passing game comes from this personnel group. The only formation that features 10 personnel is the shotgun formation, but Locksley mixes it up by using both 2×2 and 3×1 formations. This means that there could be both 2 receivers on the same side of the field, or 3 on one side and 1 on the other using the same personnel. For this reason, slot receivers are very important in this offense, and the Terps have two good ones in Stefon Diggs and Levern Jacobs.
20 personnel is used a lot in the running game, and almost always features a fullback as the second running back. Mike Locksley likes to use the pistol formation, and sometimes puts his fullback next to his quarterback to strengthen the backfield for running plays or play-action passes. He also uses 20 personnel as a shotgun formation when he wants an extra blocker on option plays or passing plays. From this personnel, he can also go to a spread I-formation look, which he used when the Terps were struggling running the ball downhill out of pistol or shotgun formations.
22 and 32 personnel are the least used personnel for the Terps, as they are used in short-yardage and goal-line situations. If the Terps are facing a 3rd-and-1 from anywhere on the field, Locksley will likely put his offense in 22 personnel, with a running back, a fullback, and two tight ends. This means that there is one receiver left, and Stefon Diggs lines up wide to take a cornerback out of the equation. The Terps never ran play-action out of this formation last season, and either ran a QB sneak, dive run, or power run. 32 personnel is used in Locksley’s goal-line package. It features 2 fullbacks, 1 running back, and 2 tight ends with 0 receivers split wide. The two fullbacks move around behind the line of scrimmage just before the snap, and often dictate the strength of the formation and which side the ball will be run to. They run a simple dive play out of this formation, which resulted in a few touchdowns for Brandon Ross in 2013. The only time the Terps ran play-action out of this formation was in the Military Bowl, which resulted in a passing touchdown for C.J. Brown to Dave Stinebaugh.
As you can see, the Terps essentially run 3 personnel groups in normal situations. From there, Mike Locksley has a plethora of formations that he can go to depending on the personnel on the field. For a no-huddle team like the Terps, you must keep personnel simple, but you can get more fancy with the formations. The use of both pistol and shotgun formations within these personnel groupings is one of the main reasons why this offense is considered “multiple”.
Spread offenses operate with a base personnel of 10, and rarely stray from the shotgun formation. Some use the pistol formation, and some use a tight end, but never go under center, even in short-yardage situations. If they do, then they are more “multiple” than “spread”. Pro-style offenses operate with a base personnel of 21, and almost always line up under center. They can spread the field with 4-5 wide receivers, but usually only do that in 3rd-and-long situations. “Multiple” offenses can do both of these things, and also incorporate the pistol formation and usually some read-option looks.
Mike Locksley likes to have a balanced offense, just like most offensive coordinators in college football. Last season, the Terps ran the ball just under 60% of the time, and threw the ball just over 40% of the time. While Locksley probably wants this ratio closer to 50/50, a running quarterback makes it alright to run it more. When you can stretch the defense with the quarterback’s legs, you don’t need to throw the ball as much. Many spread teams rely on short screen passes and dump-offs to count as running plays. But when you are able to have a strong running game with both your running backs and your quarterback, those passes become read-option runs.
The Running Game
One of the other major reasons why we call Mike Locksley’s offense “multiple” is the large number of ways that he likes to run the football. This is a run-first offense, and having a strong running game is absolutely crucial to the team’s success. Locksley likes to run the ball with every personnel grouping that he uses, and the Terps did that very well last season.
The most obvious running play that he uses is the read-option. C.J. Brown will run this out of each personnel grouping and out of nearly every formation in Mike Locksley’s playbook. When the Terps are in the shotgun formation, the running back will be either directly next to the quarterback or slightly offset to either side. You can see the differences here:
Standard Shotgun Formation
Offset Shotgun Formation
From the standard shotgun formation, the outside read-option is run. C.J. Brown reads the backside defensive end, and if he hands the ball off, the running back comes around the playside offensive tackle. From the offset shotgun formation, the read is the same, but the running back would head between the two offensive guards instead of running around the end of the offensive line.
Locksley also uses his wide receivers in the running game, and I examined the wide variety of the option game in a previous article.
He also likes to run the ball out of the pistol formation, something else I examined in a previous article.
The Passing Game
Mike Locksley’s passing game contains elements from both pro-style schemes and spread schemes. C.J. Brown doesn’t have the strongest arm, but was very efficient on short and medium-yardage throws in 2013. This is where Mike Locksley’s passing game has focused for the past few seasons. With the speed of receivers like Deon Long and Stefon Diggs, the deep passing game is still used, but Locksley likes to get the ball to them in space with a quarterback like C.J. Brown.
Mike Locksley uses a different kind of play chart in the booth when his offense is on the field. His chart is divided up into “touches”, and he has a set range of how many touches he wants each player to get in each game. Stefon Diggs’ number was likely between 14-17 last season before he suffered the season-ending leg injury against Wake Forest. While Diggs may get 8-9 catches per game, he will also carry the ball 4-5 times on jet sweeps or option pitches. Locksley wants to get his play-makers the ball in space, and knows that keeping them active in his offense is crucial.
Stefon Diggs sees most of his touches in the passing game come on crossing routes. This takes advantage of his speed and also gets him the ball in space where he can make a play. It is also a very easy throw for C.J. Brown, making this route one of everyone’s favorites. But Diggs is able to run any route well, and he makes plays at every level of the defense. He will run vertical routes, post routes, out routes, or dig routes. His versatility in the passing game gives Mike Locksley a lot of options when it comes to formations and personnel.
Deon Long gets most of his touches on vertical routes, dig routes, and out routes. He excels at the deep and mid-range passing game mainly due to both his speed and the threat of his speed. He also has great hands, which allows C.J. Brown to be confident when he throws these passes. I’d expect Brown to be even better with his deep and mid-range passes this season, and Long should have a very good year because of it.
So, as you can see, the reason Mike Locksley’s offense is so “multiple” is because it combines elements from many different offensive schemes into one offensive playbook. It isn’t sloppily mashed together either, it is a very solid offensive system that not many teams use around the country. Players enjoy playing in it because it is a no-huddle offense that is based on touches, so they know they’ll get the ball during games. It’s also a versatile offense, so there is rarely any worry about putting a square peg into a round hole. It’s balanced as well, so the running game is going to get just as much attention as the passing game. Overall, it is a very impressive offensive system, and the Big Ten Network was raving about how versatile it is when they visited the University of Maryland campus for practice last week.