New Auburn football head coach Hugh Freeze has hired his first offensive coordinator in his Tigers tenure — that being Philip Montgomery, who has spent the previous eight seasons as the head coach at the University of Tulsa.
Ever since the Freeze hire, many Tiger fans’ focus has been on what the offense would look like in 2023. Now, they have their answer.
Truthfully, Montgomery was arguably the most qualified candidate that any university could have hired. He has been one of the great innovators of offense over the last fifteen years and between his time at Houston, Baylor, and Tulsa, his offensive units have broken conference and national records on an annual basis.
What Auburn football fans should expect from a Philip Montgomery offense
Philip Montgomery was the chief co-architect of Art Briles’ spread-iso offense. During their time together at Houston and Baylor, their units used a combination of high tempo and multiple wide receiver sets to give defenses fits. This aligns well with Hugh Freeze’s offensive identity, which has similarly been a high tempo spread offense. In the official Auburn University press release, Montgomery said that he is looking forward to bringing “an exciting, up-tempo offense to Auburn.”
This should be a welcome sight to Auburn football fans all over, as the hurry-up offense has largely been absent since late 2014. What was once one of the fastest offenses in the country from one play to the next has not been able to keep up the pace in recent years. This will not be the case under Freeze and Montgomery.
Formations and Personnel
From a formation perspective, this offense is going to look completely different from the Bryan Harsin offense. To some degree, it will not look much like Gus Malzahn’s offense either. Philip Montgomery, like Malzahn, bases out of 20 personnel, with a running back, a blocking H-back, and three wide receivers. Auburn fans will recognize this from the Malzahn playbook as the Stack and Slant formations. What will be different is the spacing of the receivers.
For the most part, the receivers under both Malzahn and Harsin were closer to the center, with perimeter receivers lining up just inside the top of the numbers, and slot receivers typically splitting the tackles and the perimeter receivers. Under Montgomery, slot receivers will take the place of perimeter receivers. That is because perimeter receivers will typically line up at either the bottom of the numbers or outside the numbers. This spacing keeps defenses from disguising coverages, which eases the decision-making process for the quarterback.
Montgomery has also featured 10 personnel, or one running back and four wide receivers. This is arguably when this offense is at its best. With four wide receivers well outside the hashes, the defense is forced into either a light box and hoping that they can beat a block against the running game, or adding a second linebacker into the box and trusting that they can get out to the perimeter in time to defend the passing game.
The Running Game
While we have yet to see any on-field proof of what this offense will truly look like, we can at least look at Philip Montgomery’s history and take an educated guess. For most of his career, Montgomery has run the most true-to-self version of the Art Briles offense. In the running game, this will mean a lot of gap scheme.
Briles and Montgomery have used four blocking schemes for the majority of their running plays, all of which are gap schemes. Strong and weak iso are going to be the most common schemes out of what Auburn fans will recognize as a stacked backfield. An H-back leading into the B gap for the running back to follow and create big yardage is the entire point of iso.
Power and dart are the two most common pulling schemes that Briles and Montgomery use. Power involves pulling the backside guard into the B gap. This scheme can be used as both a one-back scheme and a two-back scheme. Dart, or tackle power, is exactly what it sounds like. The tackle is pulled into either the B gap or A gap depending on the defense. This is Montgomery’s favorite blocking scheme out of 10 personnel, and will attach every RPO under the sun to keep the defense from stopping it.
As Montgomery has evolved as a play-caller at Tulsa, he has begun to include zone blocking schemes to account from three man fronts that can beat gap scheme. This has typically come in the form of inside zone read out of stack and one back sets, and split zone read out of slant sets. Split zone read will be incredibly familiar to Auburn football fans, as it was the play that Nick Marshall and Tre Mason ran to perfection on their way to the BCS National Championship Game.
The Passing Game
This is the area that Auburn football fans should be most excited about: the Art Briles passing game. Even to this day, Philip Montgomery utilizes the spread iso passing game that made Baylor the offensive juggernaut that it was. Out of both three wide and four wide sets, Montgomery will tag quick screens and hitch routes to the running game to account for crashing corners and outside linebackers.
In the deep game, Montgomery will simply tag a receiver to run what is called a vertical choice route. By reading the corner and the safety, the receiver can just run to open space. The rest of the receivers have one job: occupy the other corners if they are on the same side as the tagged receiver. If they are on the other side of the field, their job is to lazily jog a few yards. They are not getting the ball, so they are given the play off.
Baylor used these choice routes to turn Robert Griffin III, Nick Florence, Bryce Petty, and Seth Russell into 300+ YPG passers every season. With track stars for receivers, all the Baylor QBs needed was time to get them open, and corners would be looking at the back of someone’s jersey.
If you’re an Auburn football fan, this is an offense that should excite you before Spring camp ever starts. Daydreaming of 3500 yard passers, 1000 yard receivers, and going NASCAR-like speed after first downs is now not the result of a pipe dream. It is a reality.
We will know even more as Spring camp begins in a couple months, and soon we will be able to get a look at what this offense looks like in navy and orange.