Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Wildcat offense here to stay for Alabama

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Call it the “Wild Tide” or the “Wild Elephant.”

Nick Saban doesn’t care what Alabama’s rendition of the Wildcat offense is called.

It is clear, however, that isn’t going anywhere.

Two days after making its unexpected and not overly successful debut in a 34-24 win over Virginia Tech, the Alabama football coach fielded several questions dealing with the latest offensive trend to strike the college football world.

Revealing the different names used within the program was not part on his agenda, however.

“We call it the Wildcat,” Saban said. “Wildcat is categorized as somebody that’s not the quarterback who plays in the quarterback position. I’m not going to sit here and tell you what we call our plays and formation. That’s not for public knowledge. It doesn’t make a difference what you call it. You can call it Houston.”

Regardless of its name, the strategy was popularized at Arkansas in 2007 when current Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn was the Razorback offensive coordinator. Darren McFadden turned from running back to quarterback in the “Wild Hog” offense that led to confusion and breakdowns among opposing defenses.

The whole point of implementing the modern take on the single wing at Alabama, Saban said, was to create another gap for defenders to cover. It leant itself to Alabama’s game plan because the plays it uses didn’t stray far from those used in their more traditional pro-style offense. There is just a different player at quarterback.

In a typical man-to-man offense, nobody is assigned to cover the quarterback. Bringing a receiver in motion creates an option to hand off, or at the very least, freeze a few defenders anticipating one.

“Everybody is developing their ways to try and defend this, but I also think people are expanding what they do in this, more and more, that if you’re not defending the middle of the field properly, they are going to have some things they can do to take advantage of that,” Saban said. “Ole Miss has always been able to do that. They could do it at Arkansas.”

Although not used in Saturday’s win, the option to pass also exists. Mark Ingram, who took most of the snaps as the Wildcat quarterback, threw a few passes in high school though he never played quarterback.

“If I have to throw it,” Ingram said. “I will.”

Although practiced throughout August’s preseason practice, the decision was made to open the game in the formation was made two days before game day, Ingram said.

For the most part, the Wildcat wasn’t very effective against the Hokies. There were issues with low shotgun snaps, timing and blocking, but it added an extra dimension to the offense that time spent by opposing defenses preparing for it.

Tide linebacker Cory Reamer said he is in full favor of the offense pulling the trick out of the bag. With so many teams around the country adapting the principles of the Wildcat, it helps having an offense that can run those formations in practice.

Like all trends within the game, the Wildcat will eventually fade from playbooks.

“It’s probably one of those things defenses will catch up with,” Saban said.

That day has yet to arrive, and until it does, Alabama will continue to tinker with the Wildcat.

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