Ali Chami/Daily. Buy this photo.

It’s tricky to quantify why something that’s seemingly so simple can be so effective.

The air raid offense isn’t overly complex. Its basic principle revolves around getting athletes into open space and watching them do what they do best.

With Maryland coming into Ann Arbor this week for the No. 4 Michigan football team’s Big Ten opener, the air raid offense will pose some unique challenges for an untested Wolverine defense. Michigan defensive coordinator Jesse Minter is quite aware of that fact.

“Great challenge, really good scheme,” Minter said on Wednesday. “I think they play to the quarterback’s strengths and kind of what he does well. So it’ll be a great challenge for us.”

Taulia Tagovailoa, the quarterback at the center of the Terrapins’ attack is the type of player that can sling the ball all over the field. He’s the best quarterback Maryland has had in years.

The air raid offense needs a player like Tagovailoa calling the shots, someone with good velocity, accuracy and arm strength. A system that’s as reliant on the pass as the air raid needs a high-end quarterback, and Maryland has one.

Tagovailoa’s skill combined with the fact that the Wolverines haven’t faced any remotely tough opponents is why so many have circled this game. Michigan is favored by three scores, yes, but it’s also the first time it has played a team that has a path to victory that doesn’t require divine intervention.

It’s not a litmus test game by any means, but it still presents a compelling storyline: How will the Wolverines’ defensive philosophy fare against a strong air raid offense?

The Daily breaks it down.

As mentioned earlier, the basic principle of the scheme is to get the ball into athletes’ hands in open space, stretching the field in all directions using concepts like mesh and four verticals. A quote from the man who helped create and popularize the scheme sums up the core belief:

“There’s nothing balanced about the 50 % run, 50 % pass because that’s 50 % stupid,” current-Mississippi State coach Mike Leach said back in 2018. “When you have five skill positions, if all five of them are contributing to the offensive effort, then that’s balanced. But this notion that if you hand it to one guy 50 % of the time and you throw it to a combination of two guys 50 % and you’re really balanced, then you proudly pat yourself on the back and tell yourself that … 

“Well, then you’re delusional.”

Leach said all of this after a game that his team won all while rushing for a net total zero yards. Don’t believe it? Just check the utterly outrageous box score.

The Terrapins will still run the ball, and maybe even run it to great effect. After all, at this point, the air raid is more of an ideology and less of a concrete playbook. But that should put in perspective where the air raid comes from, its eccentricity and its almost confounding success.

Maryland’s offense will test every aspect of Michigan’s defense. The secondary has to keep up with a receiving core that includes former five-star Rakim Jarrett, the linebackers have to keep an eye out for Tagovailoa’s legs and the defensive line needs to find a way to generate pressure against a talented offensive line.

That sounds like a lot, but again, a good defense can do all of that. There’s just no way of knowing if the Wolverines have one of those yet. But their defensive coordinator welcomes the challenge and what it will reveal about his unit.

“(It’s a) conference game, first and foremost, (they’ll) definitely have some better players than what we’ve seen so far,” Minter said. “I’m excited to see how we play against this team.”

Without facing an opponent that poses a threat, Michigan’s defense remains largely an unknown.

Now the Wolverines face a team with athletes that belong on the same field as them, and running a scheme that will test their speed, decision making and open-field tackling.

The air raid is as unconventional as its mascot, Leach. It’s strange and it’s nontraditional. But that works in its favor, especially for Maryland.

Upsets are the product of anomalies on the field, oddities that can’t be easily explained, only to be understood upon a second — or even third — watch. 

So against an eccentric, explosive scheme, Michigan is treading carefully. It doesn’t want to be on the wrong side of an upset — another victim of college football on any given Saturday. 

The Terrapins’ air raid attack will provide a test for the Wolverines’ defense. In order to be viewed as a true contender, it’s one that they’ll need to pass.