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Wisconsin Football: Exploring the Genius of Phil Longo



Wisconsin football OC Phil Longo

When Luke Fickell named Phil Longo as his offensive coordinator for the Wisconsin football program, it culminated in a courtship that lasted almost a decade. Fickell first tried to bring Longo into his fold back at Cincinnati, but Mississippi stepped in and got Longo.

However, becoming the head coach at a program as storied as Wisconsin gave Fickell the power to entice Longo from North Carolina. This fact alone speaks volumes for the image of Wisconsin football.

With Phil Longo — the proof is in the pudding

Phil Longo is a disciple of Mike Leach and the “Air Raid” philosophy, which features a shotgun formation, four wide receivers, and one running back. Different variations of this offense include two outside and two slot receivers or trip receivers to one side and the lone wideout on the opposite. These offenses typically generate large amounts of yards and, more importantly, points.

In 2016, the last season before Longo took over as offensive coordinator at Ole Miss, their offense averaged 32.6 points per game, 314 yards passing per game, and 464 total yards offense, per game.

After two seasons, the Phil Longo-coached offense averaged 33.9 points per game (PPG), 346 yards passing, and 511 yards of total offense. While the total points per game isn’t that great of an increase, his offense showed an 11.2 % and 10.1 % increase in passing yards and total yards per game.

The change that came in North Carolina was not only more significant, but the first season showed a tremendous increase in scoring.

In 2018, the year before Longo’s arrival, the Tar Heels averaged 27.4 PPG, 249 yards per game passing, and 442 yards of total offense a game.

Longo’s offense averaged 33.1 PPG, 285 yards passing, and 474 yards of offense per game in his first year calling plays for North Carolina. That is almost a touchdown more per game!

The second season at North Carolina showed even more progress. UNC’s offense scored 41.7 PPG, averaged 301 yards through the air, and 537 total yards, per game.

That’s a staggering 52% increase in points per game. And a 21% increase in both passing and total yards of offense per game.

He’s shown a willingness to adapt

Coaches often become married to a system and have difficulty adapting to the available personnel. A perfect example is when James Franklin took over at Penn State from Bill O’Brien. Christian Hackenberg’s QB rating went from 134.0 to 109.4 because he became to be a “dual-threat” QB instead of his natural role of a pure pocket passer.

In an interview with The Athletics’ Jesse Temple ($), Jeremiah Briscoe – Longo’s QB at Sam Houston State – discussed Phil Longo and his adaptability. “He’s going to put you in a position to succeed. He’s not married to one system. ‘Oh, I have to have a quarterback that can sling it 50 times a game’ or ‘I need a dual-threat guy.’ He’s not married to that. He’s going to play the cards that he’s dealt. He’s going to make them as best as they can possibly be.”

Phil Longo isn’t just an “air raid” OC

Phil Longo spent four seasons as the offensive coordinator for the Tarheels to further illustrate this concept. For two of those seasons (2019 and 2020), he had not one but TWO running backs averaging over 1,000 yards rushing per season. When they left the program, he allowed Sam Howell, his quarterback, the opportunity to run the ball more freely. Howell ran for 828 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns that season.

Longo’s ability to adapt to his players’ strengths promises big things for both Braelon Allen and Wisconsin football. Is it August yet??

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