Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Gir's Weekly Column: Volume 91

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Gir's Weekly Column: Volume 91

By Gir Todafunk
Special to The Daily Magi
November 3, 2056

Happy Friday, readers on the Daily Magi and Magi Football Blog. I am Gir Todafunk with another weekly column for your wonderful folks to enjoy. This week, we remain No. 4 in the polls, but not for long. Alabama and Mississippi State face each other this week, and if we take care of business against San Diego State, we're going to at least be third in the polls. So we'll definitely be on the outside looking in heading into the rest of the month.

I want to continue talking about the wildcat, and the proliferation of the offense throughout the college and pro levels. The wildcat was popularized on the college level by Bill Snyder, head coach of the Kansas State University Wildcats with Michael Bishop as quarterback in 1997 and 1998 when they made a run at the top of the national rankings. Bishop rushed for 1304 career yards in two seasons, including 748 yards on 177 carries during the '98 season. As stated in the previous article, this type of offense was the catalyst for Urban Meyer's offense during the start of his career. It was Meyer's success with quarterback Tim Tebow that helped the formation come to the forefront.

The wildcat has been continued Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, and former Ole Miss Rebels offensive coordinator David Lee when they were offensive coordinators for the Arkansas Razorbacks after seeing the success of Bill Snyder and Urban Meyer. In 2006, Malzahn was the offensive coordinator for the Razorbacks. Malzahn introduced the wildcat into the Arkansas offense. When Malzahn left for Tulsa in 2007, Lee became the offensive coordinator for the Razorbacks. Both Malzahn and Lee ran a variation of the wildcat formation which prominently featured running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. The wildcat formation was sometimes called the "wildhog" (in honor of the Razorback mascot at the University of Arkansas) and subsequently rebranded as the "Wild Rebel" when Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt went to Ole Miss as head coach (Ole Miss' mascot being the Rebels), and a variation involving a direct snap to a tight end has also been called the "Wild Turkey" popularized by the Virginia Tech Hokies.

Several other college teams have used the wildcat formation regularly, including the wildcats of Kansas State, Kentucky, and Villanova, as well as the Pitt Panthers. Pitt had great success with the formation having star running back LeSean McCoy or running back LaRod Stephens-Howling take the snap. The Panthers scored numerous times from this formation during those years. Kentucky has successfully run the formation with wide receiver Randall Cobb taking the snaps. This formation is frequently called the "WildCobb" and is often very successful given the fact that Cobb also started numerous games at quarterback for Kentucky during his first year. Villanova won the 2009 FCS championship with a multiple offense that included the wildcat, with wide receiver Matt Szczur taking the snap. Szczur scored a key touchdown in the Wildcats' semifinal against William & Mary out of the formation, and made a number of big plays out of the wildcat against Montana in the final.

UCF also uses a wildcat formation they call the "Wild Knight". It was originally intended to be run by Rob Calabrese, even after he lost the starting job in 2010 to Jeff Godfrey, but he tore his ACL using the play to score a rushing touchdown against Marshall on October 13, 2010. At the time, most agreed that Calabrese was effective at running the Wild Knight formation.

The wildcat formation made an appearance in 1998, when Minnesota Vikings' offensive coordinator Brian Billick began employing formations where QB Randall Cunningham lined-up as a wide receiver and third-down specialist David Palmer took the direct snap from the center with the option to pass or run.

In the 1998 NFC Championship, with 7:58 to go in the third quarter, on a second and 5 play, the Atlanta Falcons deployed quarterback Chris Chandler wide left as a receiver while receiver Tim Dwight took a direct snap and ran 20 yards for a first down.

In a December 24, 2006 game between the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons, the Panthers deployed a formation without a quarterback and snapped the ball directly to running back DeAngelo Williams for much of the game. The Panthers ran the ball—mostly in this formation—for the first twelve plays of the opening drive, and ran the ball 52 times, with only 7 passing plays. The offensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers at the time, Dan Henning, later developed this concept into the wildcat as the offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins. 

Relying on the experience of quarterbacks coach David Lee who had run the scheme at Arkansas, the 2008 Miami Dolphins under Henning implemented the wildcat offense beginning in the third game of the 2008 season with great success, instigating a wider trend throughout the NFL. The Dolphins started the wildcat trend in the NFL lining up either running back Ronnie Brown (in most cases) or Ricky Williams to take a shotgun snap with the option of handing off, running, or throwing. Through eleven games, the wildcat averaged over seven yards per play for the Dolphins. "It could be the single wing, it could be the Delaware split buck business that they used to do," Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning said. "It comes from all of that." On September 21, 2008, the Miami Dolphins used the wildcat offense against the New England Patriots on six plays, which produced 5 touchdowns (four rushing and one passing—from Ronnie Brown himself) in a 38–13 upset victory.

As the popularity of the wildcat spread during the 2008 NFL season, several teams began instituting it as a part of their playbook. Defending plays from the wildcat requires linemen and linebackers to know and execute their own assignments without over-pursuing what may turn into a fake or a reverse. The formation's initial success in 2008 can be attributed in part to surprise—defenses had not practiced their countermeasures against such an unusual offensive strategy. Since then, most teams are well prepared to stop the wildcat; an example came in November 2008 when the Patriots traveled to Miami nine weeks after the Dolphins win in Foxboro; Bill Belichick's defense limited the wildcat to just 27 yards and forced the Dolphins to try a conventional passing attack; the game lead changed six times but the Patriots wore out the Dolphins with a 48–28 win.

Though defenses now understand how to stop the wildcat, it does not mean the formation is no longer useful. A defense's practice time is finite. Opponents who prepare to stop the wildcat have less time available to prepare for other offensive approaches. Many teams admit to spending an inordinate amount of time having to prepare for this scheme.

Other teams that use the wildcat formation in the NFL may use different names for their versions. For example, the Carolina Panthers call their version the 'Mountaineer formation', named after the Appalachian State Mountaineers, the alma mater of their wildcat quarterback Armanti Edwards, who played quarterback for the Mountaineers. The Denver Broncos utilize 'Wild Horses', developed in 2009. The New York Jets referred to their version as the Tigercat formation in reference to Brad Smith having attended the University of Missouri when Smith played for New York from 2009–2010. The 2011 Minnesota Vikings referred to their formation as the "Blazer package" which employed former UAB Blazers quarterback Joe Webb. Until the 2009 season, a technicality in the league rules made the wildcat offense illegal; essentially, the rule stated that a designated quarterback must be in position to take all snaps. This has since been changed.

Look forward to my next weekly column here on the Daily Magi and Magi Football Blog, folks. I'm Gir Todafunk, Mr. Wonderful, signing off. You are not alone.

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