In the second quarter of Notre Dame’s 17-13 victory over Michigan State, the Spartans started a drive from inside their own twenty. When they lined up to run their first play, I had to do a double take. Why, they were in the infamous wildcat formation.
After the game I kept thinking back to that formation. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but hasn’t it been quite a while since we had seen the wildcat? I texted a friend about it Saturday night, and he shared my thoughts; we haven’t seen that in ages. I thought the wildcat was dead, but it turns out football’s hottest fad of a few years ago is still clinging onto some life.
For those who don’t know, the wildcat is a variation of the single wing. It is when a running threat, be it a mobile QB, a running back, a wideout or what have you, lines up in the shotgun formation and takes a direct snap. In simplest terms, the idea behind the formation is that it evens up the numbers game for the offense. On most running plays, the quarterback hands the ball off and is a spectator the rest of the play, effectively making the play an eleven on ten numbers advantage for the defense. By making the quarterback a running threat, that numbers game is evened up. Throw in a ton of misdirection and the ability to threaten the defense vertically and horizontally, and the formation is a handful to defend when not prepared for it.
The wildcat has been around for years, but it became famous in 2008 when the Miami Dolphins took the formation to Massachusets and beat the Patriots 38-13 using a heavy dose of it. This snapped the Pats 21 game regular season winning streak, and started a league wide fad. The Dolphins would go on to average seven yards per play out of the formation the rest of the year.
In college we started seeing the formation everywhere. Darren McFadden and Felix Jones ran the “Wild Hog” at Arkansas with great success. Randall Cobb and Kentucky ran the “Wild Cobb” which made Cobb a household name. In the NFL, almost every team tried their hand at the formation, and teams started drafting and signing players with the formation in mind, see Mike Vick, Tim Tebow, and Colin Kaepernick.
As fast as the wildcat rose to the top of the football world, it died. The next time the Dolphins played the Patriots, every play was snuffed out, and teams started getting a blueprint on what it took to stop it. The more film that teams had on it, the easier it became to stop, and today the formation is rarely seen.
The weird thing is, the wildcat will probably always have some place in a football playbook. While it’s not difficult to stop with the right preparation, it does involve a ton of misdirection and a numbers advantage, which can throw a team off if they are not expecting it. For Michigan State, teams have now seen the formation and will have no choice but to dedicate some practice time towards stoping it, and that’s why you see the occasional wildcat play on Saturday’s and Sunday’s, even though it’s ineffective anymore. It is for that reason the while the wildcat may be endangered, it may never fully become extinct.
Game Balls: Week 4
Brock Hekking, LB Nevada
Ready for this line? Had six tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, three pass breakups, and an interception in Nevada’s 31-9 win over Hawaii.
Wisconsin Badgers Offensive Line
After I heard about the Badgers rushing numbers against Purdue, I made it a point to check out the replay to this game on the Big Ten Network. The Wisconsin line pushed Purdue defenders all over the field Saturday in route to almost 350 yards rushing.
This Week for the Irish
Oklahoma visits South Bend this week in a game that is too critical for words. Last year the Irish embarrassed Oklahoma in Norman, pounding them on both sides of the ball en route to a 30-13 victory as a double digit underdog. This week ND starts a three game stretch that will ultimately decide if they’re BCS bowl contenders or a mediocre team who will play before New Year’s Day. Oklahoma is coming off a bye and has been playing better offensively as of late, so odds are that unless the Irish defense magically flips a switch and reverts back to their 2012 form, the Sooners are going to score some points Saturday afternoon. It will likely come down to Tommy Rees and the Notre Dame offense. In year’s past, Tommy has done enough to keep the Irish in games that turned into high scoring track meets. However, he rarely actually leads them to wins in those games. While he may put up solid passing numbers in the high scoring affairs, usually Tommy makes one or two critical mistakes which ultimately cost his team the game. Look no further than earlier this month at the big house. Last season Everett Golson played mistake free football while occasionally sprinkling in an explosive play in Norman. Seeing as the Notre Dame defense has taken a step or two back this year, that will be the MINIMUM Rees can do this year to expect a win. More than likely, Tommy is going to have to lead the Irish on several scoring drives while limiting his mistakes. I don’t doubt his ability to put up points; but I’d be lying if I said I had 100% trust in him to protect the football in what will likely be a high scoring affair.
Prediction: Oklahoma 34 Notre Dame 21
What Else I’m Watching This Week
#6 LSU @ #9 Georgia
In all my years watching college football, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team run a gauntlet like Georgia has in their first month of the season. They opened at Clemson, hosted South Carolina the following week, and now they will welcome the Tigers to Death Valley. If Aaron Murray and the Bulldogs can get past LSU on Saturday, they will finish their extremely tough first month with just one three point loss on the road to a top five team. That could look very good come December if there are a few one loss teams vying for one of the top two spots in the BCS rankings.
WEEK 5 PICKS
LAST WEEK 2-0
OVERALL YTD 5-2
I had no picks in the column last week, but posted San Diego State +7 on twitter as they covered against Oregon State, and I also took to twitter to place my Miami Dolphins -2 bet as they covered against the Falcons.