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In Defense of the Wildcat

One of the few complaints I've consistently seen with most 'Bama fans following the Virginia Tech game is criticism of our use of the Wildcat. And in all fairness, in terms of actual production, our use of the Wildcat didn't generate very many yards. I haven't crunched the specific numbers just yet, but off-hand I can really only recall about one good run from the formation, and most of the runs generally resulted in little success. Furthermore, we did have a promising drive end on a poor snap in the Wildcat from William Vlachos to Mark Ingram, and Saban himself said in the post-game interview that he and his staff thought some of the things we tried in the first half (the Wildcat, among others) would be a bit more productive than they were.

With that said, however, I'll still defend our use of the Wildcat to date. Yards gained and points accumulated are ultimately the measures of offensive success, of course, but that is not to say that something cannot have value even if the actual raw production in terms of yards and points was not as high as you would like. And to that end with the Wildcat, even though it didn't grind out a lot of yards, our usage of it still provided a lot of positives for the Tide offense. First and foremost, by splitting McElroy out side and effectively taking him out of the play, we made the transition a bit smoother for him in his first start by effectively giving him a few plays off. Moreover, we gave our future opponents a lot more to prepare for than they otherwise would have -- and combined with the Pistol, all of the shotgun work, the jet sweeps, etc., a lot more to prepare for -- and using the Wildcat many times on tough, physical, interior running plays helped wear down the Virginia Tech defense. Sure people were complaining that we didn't get a lot of yards on the Wildcat runs, but I saw no one complaining when the Hokie defense was completely gassed in the fourth quarter, and our running of the Wildcat at least had a small hand in that.

Furthermore, it should be pointed out that any lack of success we had in the running game while using the Wildcat was really not caused by us running the Wildcat. No we weren't moving the ball well on the ground early, but we wouldn't have moved the ball particularly well on the ground regardless of whether or not we were running the Wildcat, the I-formation, a two-tight end set, or whatever other formation you can think of. Simply put, we were unable to throw the football, Virginia Tech was compressing their entire defense, and frankly their undersized but lightning quick defenders in the front seven were flat-out whipping our offensive line on almost every single snap. The lack of success stemmed not from poor play-calling, but from poor execution up front. Therefore, you don't need to scrap the Wildcat as much as you simply need the offensive line to play better football.

Moreover, I will also add that we were very conservative in our usage of the Wildcat. Why? I imagine it was because we didn't want to risk a big negative play that the Hokies could quickly turn into points, but in any event we were indeed quite conservative when we lined up in the Wildcat. Still, moving forward, it doesn't take an offensive genius of Walshian proportions to figure out that the possibilities for using the Wildcat in a variety of different ways is almost infinite. Rest assured we've got some passes installed, counters, misdirections, sweeps to other players, laterals to McElroy to set up other passes (remember, he stayed on the field when we ran this) and hell perhaps even a bit of an option game worked into it. You could effectively dream up scenarios all day long, and at some point in time I think you can be confident that you will see many of them. I highly doubt our coaching staff spent the time installing this that they did only to have Ingram consistently run it between the tackles ala Woody Hayes. And, undoubtedly, our opponents from here on out will have to spend valuable time preparing for every single one of those possibilities.

So, no, the Wildcat wasn't overly successful in its debut for the Crimson Tide, but for now I'll defend its usage anyway. Even though it didn't generate a lot of rushing yards, it still helped us in some other ways, and at any rate it was largely unsuccessful not because of the formation itself, but because of a lack of execution from our offensive line. If the offensive line plays better, or plays an opponent without the defensive quality of the Hokies, it should come to life. I, for one, hope we see it again when Arkansas comes to town.

ed.- Thought I'd throw this bit in from Gentry Estes's twitter feed:

Ingram: "If I have to throw it, I will."