Is the “Wildcat” here to stay?

Posted on: September 25th, 2012 by jayhawktalk No Comments

Matthews certainly looked the part on Saturday afternoon

On last week’s Jayhawk Talk Podcast, we made the argument that KU’s best wide receiver may be our running back, Tony Pierson. On this week’s podcast, we argued that KU’s best wide receiver might instead be our quarterback, Dayne Crist.

Stay with me here.

I’m referring of course to the “Wildcat” formation package (some prefer to call it the “Jayhawk” formation) that Charlie Weis featured for a number of snaps in the Northern Illinois game last Saturday. The package was designed for Christian Matthews, a dual-threat quarterback turned wide receiver turned… quarterback.

Matthews had not been able to find the field much as a wide receiver, but that might change now that he has potentially found his niche. Recruited by Mangino back in 2009 (which seems like ages ago in KU football years), Matthews was at one time a talented high school quarterback that threw the ball for 5,042 yards his junior and senior seasons. That two-year span included a 44-16 TD:INT ratio and a completion percentage of 65%.

Let’s all reflect for a moment how nice it would be to have a 65% completion percentage from KU’s quarterback position.

I digress.

Traditionally, the Wildcat/Jayhawk formation works best when it is used as an element of surprise. Say you’re a defender and the opposing team breaks huddle with 10 seconds left on the play clock. You’re a safety that was about ready to stack the box against the run. Next thing you know, the offense sends its star quarterback (with a laser rocket arm) all the way out wide. You are forced to quickly adjust the defense because the secondary must now account for the quarterback as a wide receiver. It’s now 10 on 10 instead of 11 on 10.

For the most part, KU ran this package with the above-referenced personnel on the field. Unfortunately, the element of surprise was not all that strong since Matthews rarely sees the field as a wide receiver. In the future, savvy defenses will know that if Matthews checks in, the Wildcat will be coming.

Not that it changes a whole lot.

After all, defense is built on simple math. You always want to have one more guy than the offense can block. But when you face the Wildcat, that advantage is lost because the cornerback must give the quarterback spread out wide a cursory look – at least until the play has started.

By then, hopefully, it will have been too late.

Matthews looked very good running the Wildcat offense. He made great reads of the defense and for the most part chose the correct option. He carried the ball five times himself for 43 yards.

One thing he did not really do is pass the ball. And if Weis is going to keep this package around beyond the NIU game (which he definitely should), the threat of a pass must be there to keep the defense honest. As referenced above, Matthews has been a competent quarterback at one time in his career. The next step in employing a true Wildcat package is to threaten a pass occasionally. If it’s not there, tuck it and run. The threat is all that is needed.

The NIU game was the first game I’ve really been able to follow real-time reaction on Twitter, since there’s not really any service at Memorial Stadium.  Every indication was that KU fans loved this new offensive wrinkle. Perhaps because it was actually effective! We moved the ball well throughout the second and third quarters when the Wildcat was loose.

And then, just like that, it was caged again.

Should Cummings be running the Wildcat over Matthews?

Weis turned back to a more traditional offense throughout the 4th quarter because NIU began to stretch the perimeter of their defense. While I understand his reasoning, I disagree with it. A good read by the Wildcat quarterback will negate that adjustment by sending a few HB dives at the defense. After all, KU has the personnel to make them pay for it. After a few of those, hit the fake HB dive and play action it to Ragone. Who cares if you miss? It sets up the sweep once again and you’re back to where you started.

It sure beats 3 straight passing attempts and a punt.

Think about what defenses are doing now to KU when Crist is under center. Through four games, the Jayhawks have basically written the defensive game plan out for the opposition:

  1. With Crist in the game, do not concern yourself with game planning for any downfield threat. Single coverage will always suffice.
  2. Instead, focus solely on stacking the box against a very competent running game. Mix in a lot of blitzing because, again, your secondary will be fine (See #1).
  3. By the 4th quarter, rotate in as many blitz packages as you have on the Rolodex. By this point, the offensive line will be toast and you’ll be able to blow up most runs before they get started. And, if you’re lucky, perhaps Weis will have transitioned into calling every 7-step drop passing play he can find in his own Rolodex. It will turn into a sack party. Rinse and repeat.

I should be clear. The Wildcat does not cure these deficiencies. And I’m not arguing KU should go to a full-on Wildcat formation offense. What the Wildcat does do is force defenses to read and react instead of just barreling downfield at the quarterback every play. It allows more offensive playmakers to be on the field at the same time. It is easier for our O-Line to block. It opens up the potential for some trick plays later in the game (or in future games). Hell, if Pick is on the field, you have three competent QBs who could pass the ball to somebody.

More than anything, KU demonstrated that the Wildcat can be effective, which is more than we can say for the traditional offensive sets Weis has been throwing out there.

My last point on the Wildcat/Jayhawk is this: Does anyone else find it interesting Weis chose Christian Matthews to run it and not Michael Cummings? As many of you may know, Cummings is listed #2 on the depth chart and was recruited to KU just the same as Matthews as a dual-threat quarterback.  He has every bit of the running ability as Matthews, but with a much, much better arm.

Personally, I think Weis is scared to death to see Cummings enter the game and outshine his golden boy. You think there is quarterback controversy now… imagine if Cummings was given a package and just killed it?

We’d be looking at Jason Swanson over Barmann. At Reesing over Meier.

Cummings over Crist? Unfortunately, barring injury, we’ll never know who really is the better option for these 2013 Jayhawks.

For now, let’s at least hope the Wildcat is here to stay.

 

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