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Q & A With Shawn Liotta Architect of the No-Huddle No Mercy Offense

Shawn Liotta
Editor’s note: Shawn Liotta has one of the most prolific offenses in the history of high school football. Now the head coach at Albert Gallatin High School in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, Liotta amassed these statistics while the Offensive Coordinator at Clairton High School in 2014 and 2015.
  • Scored 1,728 points in a two-year period (2014-2015) or 58 points per game
  • Scored 770 points in 14 games in 2015
  • Scored 958 points in 16 games in 2014, the second highest scoring team record in High school history
  • Passed for 5,850 yards with 75 touchdowns and nine interceptions (2014-2015)
  • Rushed for 8,453 yards and 140 touchdowns and 10.72 yards per rush (2014-2015)

Coach Liotta sat down with AFM and discussed this high-powered offense:

What are the origins of the No Huddle, No Mercy Offense?
The No Huddle, No Mercy offense began in 2004 when I became a Head Coach for the first time at age 23 at Line Mountain High School in Herndon, PA. I had just finished coaching two years at Duquesne University and wanted the opportunity to run my own program. I immediately implemented a no-huddle offense to great success as our quarterback shattered virtually every school record and we led our conference in most statistical categories.

At the time, many of the concepts that I was running had origins in the run ‘n shoot offense and we at times struggled to find balance between our run and pass attack and often leaned on being pass heavy. At this time we were one of the few high schools in the area running a spread offense and one of the very few using a no-huddle. I had implemented a no-huddle play-calling system based off of sideline boards and wristbands that I had learned from Manny Matsakis and his "Triple Shoot Offense.” What i found was that the wristbands and sideline boards were troublesome to prepare and change each week and I didn’t feel we were playing as fast as I wanted to on offense.

Fast forward seven years and I had the opportunity to visit with and gain some insight into the offensive system that Todd Graham was running at the University of Pittsburgh. I was intrigued by the extreme up-tempo pace that they were able to set along with their use of gap schemes in the run game. Coach Graham considered their system a power spread and often referred to his team as a physical downhill run and play-action team. After studying their implementation of the up-tempo no huddle offense, I began to implement some of these ideas and schemes into my offense with great success.

In 2013 I had the opportunity to study and learn the Air Raid Offense from its creator, Hal Mumme, through his consulting business. I was intrigued with the Air Raid methodology of having a limited number of concepts but mastering them through high repetition, and the method of installing the offense in a three day cycle. I then spent the next six months developing and tweaking a system that would become known as the "No Huddle, No Mercy Offense" by taking run ‘n shoot concepts I learned from Coach Matsakis, extreme tempo and the down hill running game from Coach Graham, the Air Raid passing concepts and practice implementation from Coach Mumme, and concepts I had developed successfully at the high school and professional indoor level over the previous twelve years.

The Idea was to create a system that would attack with a relentless pace, force the defense to defend sideline to sideline, and have answers to any defensive tactic or adjustment. I then began to experiment with and implement in Run Pass Options off of our base concepts that allowed us to play even faster without the need to slow down to change the play call at the line of scrimmage. The offense continues to evolve even after leading the nation in scoring in 2014 (958 points) as I implemented several new concepts and tweaks in the off-season that have allowed us to be even more explosive in 2015.

What is the basic strategy of the offense?
The basic philosophy of the No Huddle, No Mercy offense is to set an extremely fast tempo and force the defense to defend the entire field. We strive for balance between run and pass, but our production is dictated by how the defense chooses to defend us.

I have developed a system of dividing the defense into an interior box, perimeter box, and coverage cap. The No Huddle, No Mercy offense has built in answers to attack the defense where we have a numbers advantage or leverage. In some games we have rushed for over 500 yards and other games we have passed for 450 yards - it just depends on how our opponent chooses to deploy their defense.

By using multiple spread formations, motions, and shifts we can create opportunities for our athletes to make plays in space. Our system of play calling allows us to get the football snapped within five seconds of the ready for play signal, allowing us to dictate the tempo of the game to the defense. It is extremely difficult for our opponents to simulate the speed at which we operate with their scout teams, and our tempo will wear teams down in the second and fourth quarters as our players have been conditioned all year to play at this pace. We have limited base schemes but utilize shifts, motions, and window dressing to protect our base concepts. Each of our base plays has built in answers or what is commonly referred to as "Run Pass Options" allowing us to attack the weakness in any defensive structure.

What makes this offense different and unique than a spread hurry up, no huddle offense?
The number one thing that makes us unique is in the extreme pace that we set throughout the game. We pride ourselves on the fact that nobody plays faster than us, and we will play as fast as the officials will spot the ball and allow us to play. Our system of play calling and practice allows us to get plays called quickly without the use of wristbands or sideline play cards that have previously slowed my teams down when running the no-huddle.

This system is extremely hard to defend because of our different personnel groupings from no back to three back formations, and our extensive use of pre-snap shifting and motions. Many no-huddle teams do not use shifting or motions pre-snap because they feel that it can slow them down. We use it extensively because of the strain that it places on the defense, particularly against teams who will use auto checks based on our formations. We have a simple pass protection system that can handle any defensive front with built-in adjustments for the blitz. Our run game features zone and gap run schemes with misdirection and constraint or "false key" plays that place force and contain players into conflict. Our built-in "Run Pass Options" allow us to ensure that we have a numbers advantage in the box to run the football. We have an extensive screen package that has accounted for over 2,000 yards of offense over the past two seasons.

The No Huddle, No Mercy passing game has roots in run ‘n shoot with option concepts in the vertical passing game paired with the mesh and shallow crossing series allows us to attack the defense horizontally and vertically. I also feel that it is important to run 2-3 gadget or exotic formations each week to keep the defense off-balance and force our next opponent to spend practice time defending them.

What is your philosophy in calling plays? Do you focus on attacking the weakest defenders?
My philosophy in play calling is to get the football into the hands of our playmakers in space whenever possible. We break the defense down into the following areas:

1. Interior Box- The area from tackle to tackle extending six yards deep.
2. Perimeter Box- The area from the sideline to one yard inside our slot receiver, extending 8 yards deep.
3. Coverage Cap- The area from 8-12 yards deep - How many deep defenders are there? Is the middle of the field open or closed?

By training our quarterback to scan the defense pre-snap and identify potential numbers or having a leverage advantage, it allows us to get the ball into our playmakers hands quickly in space through our built in run-pass options. By doing this we are dictating to the defense that will attack them where they are at their weakest. Every defense structure has a weakness or "grass" to defend. The goal as a play caller in the No Huddle, No Mercy Offense is to attack that area.

In film review we look to identify several key components of our opponent’s personnel:
1. Do they have any defensive linemen that pose a match-up issue?
2. Linebacker Keys- are they attacking or read and react?
3. Who are the force and contain players? Can we force them to play slow with our constraint plays?
4. Are the linebackers and secondary aggressive vs. run action?
5. Who is their worst cover player in the secondary and who can we double move?

Do you script plays based on down and distance?
We utilize a game day call sheet that is laid out in a manner that enables us to get our plays called quickly to allow us to play at the fast tempo that we want. Down and distance is only a small component of the game day call sheet, and typically I only worry about third down and distance calls.

For example, we have a 3rd down and 3 or less category, a 3rd down and 4-7 category, and a 3rd down and 8-12 category. Each of those calls is arranged on the call sheet by hash and field position. I also have a category for short yardage situations (2 yards or less) and long yardage situations (12 yards or more). I do not script first or second down play calls.

Many of our play calls are triggered by field position such as the area of the field or hash. We script plays by field attack zone (Backed-up, Open Field, Red Zone, Green Zone), contingency situations (2-pt, last play of half/game, backup QB), sudden change situations (following a turnover), and drive starters. I also have an area on my game day call sheet where I have sequenced plays which are groups of two plays that I want to ensure that we run in sequence during that week’s game. An example would be shifting to a quads formation and running a quick screen in the first quarter, followed by running the same formation in the third quarter and executing a double pass gadget play for a big touchdown. I typically have three or four of these sequenced plays on my call sheet each week ready to utilize during the game.

How critical is it for you to get the ball into the hands of your playmakers?
In any offensive system the goal should be to get the ball into the hands of your playmakers. The No Huddle, No Mercy Offense provides a vehicle to get the ball into your playmakers hands while maximizing your talent. We emphasize a total team concept as many players get to touch the football in this system.

During the 2015 season we had six players with ten or more carries, nine receivers tally receptions and three different players throw touchdown passes. We had a 2,500 yard passer and two 1,000 plus yard rushers. Our numbers during the 2014 season were nearly identical and serves to further illustrate our philosophy of spreading the ball around to our playmakers in space.

In this system you can easily move your most dynamic player around to attack the entire field and stress the defense. For example, our tailback will be aligned in the backfield on one snap, in the slot the next, and could be going in "Early" motion to the perimeter of the defense on third down. Our multiple formations and personnel groupings are critical to moving around our playmakers and not allowing the defense to key on any one particular player or aspect of our offense.

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