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Vol III 2015

Vol III 2015

The No-Huddle, No-Mercy Offense – A Look Inside the Most Productive Offense in the Nation

by: Shawn Liotta
Offensive Coordinator, Clairton High School (PA)
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During the 2014 season, the Clairton High School offense scored 958 points on their way to a 15-1 record. The Bears would finish with the second highest scoring offense in the history of high school football, shattering virtually every offensive school record as they averaged 59.9 points per game. A balanced offense averaged 12.75 yards per play and totaled 8,162 yards (3,249 passing/ 4,913 rushing).

Playing Fast

In my first season as the offensive coordinator at Clairton High School, I was given the unique opportunity to implement my offensive system with an extremely talented group of players who had finished 10-2 in 2013 and recently had a 66 game winning streak snapped. Those teams had featured offenses that had primarily used multiple pro-style sets and did not play with tempo.

After meeting with the team during the off-season, it became apparent that we had the potential to become one of the top offenses in the country with the implementation of this system. We immediately installed the mindset of “playing fast” in every aspect of the program. Summer workouts, 7 on 7 competitions, and practices would all focus on our conditioning and the tempo needed to execute this offense at the tempo we desired. 

Our coaches and players instantly bought into the system and mindset of getting the ball to our players in space and creating conflict for the defense with a multiple balanced attack that spread the field horizontally and vertically. This resulted in allowing us to produce one of the top offenses in the history of high school football, shattering school, district, state, and national records along the way.

Tempo and Communication

Our goal as an offense is to dictate the tempo to the defense. We want to snap the football as fast as possible, usually within 5 seconds of the play-clock starting. Our offense is a multiple spread which utilizes multiple formations from no-backs to three-back sets. By utilizing our personnel and tempo, it allows us to attack a defense that does not have the ability to substitute against our various personnel packages.  The key to getting the ball snapped so quickly for us is to get aligned in our formation first and then receive the play call. 

We have a drill that we do during practice and the off-season where we will run a play and then hurry to get aligned in the called formation and execute another play “on air” within a 5 second count. This drill continues up and down the field until we reach the end zone while moving from hash to hash. It is a great way to condition and get used to lining up in a formation quickly. We stress having no pre-snap penalties during this drill and ensure that all players are set and in the correct position before the snap. If we have a pre-snap penalty, we have a brief conditioning drill then re-start the drill from the goal line. We are striving for perfect execution during this period and it helps us to condition ourselves to play fast while learning our formations and alignments. 

Our plays are communicated through a verbal system of colors, numbers, and words. Having used the no-huddle since 2004 with various communication systems such as signals, poster boards, and wristbands, I have found the verbal method of communication to be the fastest way to get our plays called. Each play may have up to 10 ways that it can be called through word association, so it seems very complicated to the defense but allows our players to play fast. 

We play at the small school level in which crowd noise does not play a major factor in getting the play call relayed quickly to our players.  It is also a good idea if you let your players decide on the names of some of the new plays that you install throughout the season. It helps them to remember and relate to the concept and gives them a sense of ownership in what you are doing. An important point for any coach who wants to play fast is that you have to get the right play called fast. Our practice scripts and game day call sheets are organized in such a manner that allows us to get the correct play called quickly and are set up for various field zone, hash, and down and distance situations that we will face in a game.   

We are a small school with a roster size of under thirty players which demands that we are in top physical condition to allow us to play fast.   During our practice sessions we attack each period with a warp-speed tempo as we want to condition our players so that the tempo on game day appears to be slower than we practice.  We do not have walk-through periods or teach periods during the season or training camp. All of our teaching and installation is done in the meeting room and through film study. 

Answers for Any Defense

During our historic run of scoring in 2014, we faced a variety of defensive fronts and coverages designed to slow our attack. One opposing coach was quoted in the local newspaper as saying “the only way to stop that offense was to play 22 players on defense.” We did face teams who rushed two players and dropped 9 into coverage in an attempt to slow our passing attack as well as teams who attacked us with seven man pressure fronts. 

It is important that your offense, when operating at a fast tempo, have the ability to have answers for what you are facing during the heat of battle on Friday night. As with any offense, we want to have answers for inside and outside pressure, even and odd fronts, open and closed coverages, and man and zone coverage structures.  

We have a built in freeze tempo that we employ that allows us to “scan” the defense and get the play changed at the line of scrimmage pre-snap.  We also want to snap the ball as quickly as possible so there are times that the defense will catch us in a bad play, but because of the tempo of our offense we can often dial up one of our answers for a big gain or touchdown before the defense can change their alignment.

The Rushing Attack

Our rushing attack consists of three base concepts – inside zone, outside zone, and power. We also have complimentary runs including options, counters, draws, and reverses that allow us to attack any weakness or reaction that we see from the defense. As a team we rushed for 4,913 yards, 80 touchdowns, and averaged 13.9 yards per carry. Our most successful run package consisted of our Jet Series which allowed us to run our jet sweep, power, counter, and inside zone with great success while still maintaining the simplicity of our three base run schemes. Through the use of our jet motion, we were able to get our athletes the ball quickly in space on the perimeter while creating conflict for defenders with our inside run game and play-action passes off of the jet action.

Our dual read plays which packaged screens with our base run plays allowed us to “steal” free yardage while forcing the defense to soften their numbers in the box. This allowed us to run the ball more effectively. Here are two examples of how we packaged a quick screen with our base power play (See Diagram 1) and a bubble screen to our inside zone (See Diagram 2). These concepts allowed us to take advantage of teams who were playing unsound coverages and fronts or who had trouble getting aligned due to our tempo.

Diagram 1: Power Packaged with Quick Screen

Diagram 2: Inside Zone Packaged with Bubble Screen

We pride ourselves in being an effective play-action passing team off of our base run schemes. We enter each game with two or three different play-action pass packages off of each of our base run plays. One example is our post wheel concept against teams who are inverting their safeties vs. jet motion (See Diagram 3) and our bootleg concept against teams who are overplaying the jet motion and giving us numbers to the backside (See Diagram 4).

Diagram 3: Play-Action Post/Wheel

Diagram 4: Naked Bootleg

The Passing Game

During the 2014 season our passing game accounted for 3,249 yards and 42 touchdowns with only 4 interceptions. We utilize three-step, five-step, and sprint out concepts in our passing attack. Each of our base plays have multiple protection concepts that we can use depending on the front structure that we are facing.  

The most important element of the passing game is your protection and ability to answer the blitz. If you have built in answers to the blitz and the ability to quickly change your protection or launch point, it will allow your quarterback to be confident and get the ball out to his appropriate read on time. We stress getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hand to the open man and allowing our speed to work in space. One of our most successful passing concepts that illustrates our ability to have a vertical and horizontal stretch in the passing game along with built in places for the quarterback to go with against the blitz is our shallow cross series (See Diagram 5).

Diagram 5: Shallow Cross Series


Our screen package is a major component of our passing yardage but we view it as an extension of our running game. We want to have the ability to get the ball out to our players in space quickly and force the defensive line and linebackers to run laterally. Then, with our tempo, force them to line up and do it again in a matter of seconds. 

This places great stress on the defense and forces them to be in top physical condition. Our quick tempo does not allow substitution so by forcing the defensive line to run to defend screens across the field, we quickly wear them down particularly in the second and fourth quarter of games.  We utilize fast screens, slow screens, bubble screens, jailbreak screens, and key screens (See Diagram 6) as part of our screen package.

Diagram 6: Key Screen

We enter each game with four to five different screen concepts that we feel will allow us to take advantage of our opponents leverage in the secondary. In order to expand our screen package we utilize window dressing such as play-action or jet motion to allow us to run the same base concept with a different look to the defense. Once a defense starts to over-play one of our screen concepts, we will run a “sucker” play where we will pump fake the screen and throw the ball downfield.

To improve our screen game we have a screen period each day during practice which allows us to rep all of our screen packages to both sides of the field in a 10-minute period. We will align in our base formation against the scout team and alternate running each screen concept to each side of the formation in a half line setting. As we run the concept to the right, the left side is ready to execute the same concept to the left and then the process repeats itself until we complete the 10-minute period. We expect the ball to be snapped within five seconds of the play being blown dead, so we average about 7-8 reps per minute during this up-tempo half line period. For screens that require a team setting such as play-action concepts or key screens, we will rep them as a full team unit during the last two or three minutes of the screen period.

Gadget Plays

Completing the Clairton Bears offensive attack is a series of gadget or “trick” plays that we incorporate into our offense each week. Beginning with training camp, we practice 3 gadget concepts per day. When one is utilized in a game, we will replace it with another concept. Reverse passes, option passes, wildcat formations, statue of liberty plays, and double passes are all concepts which we used during the 2014 season.

We would often run these plays after a quick change of possession or as a momentum swing in the game. You can use your imagination to design these concepts each week and practicing them is fun for your players. They look forward to what new gadget plays we are installing each week. Often these plays will set up a big play for later in the season.

For example, we ran a statue of liberty play one week for a two-point conversion and a few weeks later we ran the Statue of Liberty play but had the running back throw a pass off of it to our receiver. The key is keeping the gadget plays to two or three concepts that you practice each week from the beginning of training camp. Then, replacing the play that you may have utilized with a new concept that you will practice until you decide to use it in a game situation. 

About the Author: Shawn Liotta is the offensive coordinator at Clairton High School (PA) and the head coach of the Erie Explosion of the Professional Indoor Football League. He has also spent 16 years at the high school and collegiate level as a head coach or assistant throughout Pennsylvania.

Coach Shawn Liotta just completed a five-set series of DVDs on his prolific offense that averaged nearly 60 points per game last fall. Click here for more information on the entire line of “No-Huddle, No Mercy Offense” DVDs.


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