Regular snap decisions are passé
By Jack Carey, USA TODAY
Think there's nothing new under the sun in college football? It looks like there's something new under center — or at least behind center.
More and more teams are using a direct snap to someone other than quarterback — usually a speedy running back — in an effort to catch defenses off guard and get the ball into the hands of their best players as quickly as possible.
Perhaps the best known scheme is Arkansas' "WildHog" formation with tailback Darren McFadden, runner-up for last year's Heisman Trophy, lining up at quarterback in the shotgun with the option to run, pass or hand off.
Three teams that played in the last two national championship games used the scheme effectively: Reggie Bush at Southern California, Ted Ginn Jr. at Ohio State and Florida's Percy Harvin.
This season, the trend has spread. Players at Clemson, Georgia, Colorado, Texas A&M and Notre Dame, to name a few, have taken direct snaps. Missouri even had tight end Martin Rucker taking snaps and rushing. Tulsa has inserted linebacker Chris Chamberlain, a high school quarterback, for three carries.
Pittsburgh unveiled its "Arkansas Package" last week against Michigan State with freshman running back LeSean McCoy taking direct snaps for more than a dozen plays.
The Panthers know a bit about the Razorbacks' way of doing things since Pitt coaches visited Arkansas last spring and were briefed on the scheme.
"We heard what they were doing with McFadden, and we thought it might be a thing we would be able to use with the personnel we have," said Panthers offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh. "You want get the ball in your best athletes' hands, and it kind of keeps the defense on their heels."
The Panthers did not use the formation the first two weeks against Eastern Michigan and Grambling, but with their passing game struggling against the Spartans, decided to go with it last week. They waited until the second half, Cavanaugh said, so Michigan State would not have a chance to make halftime adjustments. MSU won 17-13.
Cavanaugh said Pitt will probably "sprinkle in" more direct snaps to McCoy. Though the element of surprise will be gone, the defense can never be sure what the player is going to do with the ball.
"I'm sure Connecticut is preparing for it this week," he said.
Contributing: Kelly Whiteside