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BaseWildcatOffense.jpg SpeedSweepWildcatOffense.jpg
Base Wildcat Speed Sweep
QBCounterWildcatOffense.jpg SplitZoneWildcatOffense.jpg
QB Counter Split Zone
In the initial version of the Wildcat used in college football, the "Base Wildcat", is an
unbalanced set with a guard, an eligible tight end, and a slot receiver on one side
of center, and a guard, two tackles next to each other, another receiver, and
quarterback on the other side. In "Speed Sweep", the lefthand slot receiver (often a
running back) is handed to while sweeping. In "QB Counter", the hand off is faked,
and the one taking the snap (usually a running back) runs in the opposite direction
with the ball. In "Split Zone", a basic inside zone run is used with the one taking the
snap running directly upfield or cutting.

The wildcat formation (or wildcat offense), a variation on the single-wing formation, is an offensive American and Canadian football scheme that has been used at every level of the game including the CFL, NFL, NCAA, NAIA, and many high schools across America. The general scheme can be instituted in many different offensive systems, but the distinguishing factor is a direct snap to the running back and an unbalanced offensive line.

The wildcat is an offensive formation rather than an overall offensive philosophy or 'offense' (for example, a spread-option offense might use the wildcat formation to keep the defense guessing, or a West Coast offense may use the power-I formation to threaten a powerful run attack). When the wildcat formation is deployed, it uses the same pre-snap motion coming across the formation on every play and every play initially looks like a sweep behind zone blocking. However, after the snap several things may happen once a player in motion crosses the position of the player receiving the snap.



The American football offensive formation known as the Wildcat formation is said to have gained its name from the school's mascot and the original formation comes from the school's offensive playbook. The Miami Dolphins of the NFL, for whom former West Genesee football coach Steve Bush now coaches, have used the formation successfully many times during the 2008 season

High school

The offense was created by Hugh Wyatt, a longtime coach in the Pacific Northwest. Wyatt, coaching the La Center (WA) High School Wildcats, published an article in "Scholastic Coach" magazine in 1998, where he explained the offense. Many other high school football programs across the United States adopted Wildcat offense. In 2009, it was expected that 80% of high school and college teams would run the Wildcat.[1]


The modern version of the Wildcat was first popularized on the college level by current Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, and current Miami Dolphins quarterback coach David Lee when they were offensive coordinators for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

In 2006, Malzahn was the offensive coordinator for the Razorbacks. Malzahn introduced the Wildcat into the Arkansas offense. When Malzahn left for Tulsa in 2007, Lee became the offensive coordinator for the Razorbacks. Both Malzahn and Lee ran a variation of the Wildcat formation which prominently featured running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. The Wildcat formation was sometimes called the "WildHog" (in honor of the Razorback mascot at the University of Arkansas) and subsequently rebranded as the "WildRebel"[2] when Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt went to Ole Miss as head coach (Ole Miss' mascot being the Rebels), and it has also been called the "Wild Turkey" popularized by the Virginia Tech Hokies.

Several other college teams have used the Wildcat formation regularly, including Kansas State, Pittsburgh, Kentucky, and Villanova. Pitt has had great success with the formation lining up either star running back LeSean McCoy or running back LaRod Stephens-Howling taking the snap. The Panthers have scored numerous times from this formation throughout the last two seasons.[3] Villanova won the 2009 FCS championship with a multiple offense that included the Wildcat, with wide receiver Matt Szczur (pronounced "Caesar") taking the snap. Szczur scored a key touchdown in the Wildcats' semifinal against William & Mary out of the formation,[4] and made a number of big plays out of the Wildcat against Montana in the final.[5]

National Football League

Former Chiefs running back Larry Johnson lines up at the quarterback position in the Wildcat formation, 2008.

In a December 24, 2006 game between the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons, the Panthers, because of a quarterback injury, deployed a formation without a quarterback and snapped the ball directly to running back DeAngelo Williams.[6] The Panthers ran the ball—mostly in this formation—for the first twelve plays of the opening drive., and ran the ball 52 times, with only 7 passing plays. The offensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers at the time, Dan Henning, later developed this concept into the Wildcat as the offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins.

Relying on the experience of quarterbacks coach David Lee who had run the scheme at Arkansas, the 2008 Miami Dolphins implemented the Wildcat offense beginning in the third game of the 2008 season with great success, instigating a wider trend throughout the NFL.[7][8] The Dolphins started the Wildcat trend in the NFL lining up either running back Ronnie Brown (in most cases) or Ricky Williams to take a shotgun snap with the option of handing off, running, or throwing. Through eleven games, the Wildcat averaged over seven yards per play for the Dolphins. "It could be the single wing, it could be the Delaware split buck business that they used to do," Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning said. "It comes from all of that."[9] On September 21, 2008, the Miami Dolphins used the Wildcat offense against the New England Patriots on six plays, which produced 4 touchdowns (three rushing and one passing) in a 38-13 upset victory.

Ronnie Brown (far right) of the Miami Dolphins passing out of the Wildcat in November 2009.

As the popularity of the Wildcat spread during the 2008 NFL season, several teams began instituting it as a part of their playbook.

Defending plays from the Wildcat requires linemen and linebackers to know and execute their own assignments without overpursuing what may turn into a fake or a reverse. The formation's initial success in 2008 can be attributed in part to surprise -- defenses had not practiced their countermeasures against such an unusual offensive strategy. Since then, most teams are well prepared to stop the Wildcat. That does not mean the formation is no longer useful, though. A defense's practice time is limited. By making an upcoming opponent prepare to stop the Wildcat, that opponent necessarily has less time available to prepare for other offensive approaches. Many teams admit to spending an inordinate amount of time having to prepare for this scheme.[10][11]

Canadian Football League

Until the 2009 season, a technicality in the league rules made the Wildcat offense illegal; essentially, the rule stated that a designated quarterback must be in position to take all snaps. This has since been changed.[12]


  1. ^ Wyatt, Hugh. "Football's Subversive Side". Retrieved January 9, 2010. 
  2. ^ Herndon, Mike (September 4, 2008). "Nutt: Wild Rebel is here to stay". The Mississippi Press. Retrieved March 15, 2009. 
  3. ^ Starkey, Joe (September 19, 2007). "Pitt employing 'Wildcat' offense to alleviate QB woes". Retrieved December 22, 2008. 
  4. ^ Associated Press (2009-12-11). "Villanova advances to school's first FCS championship game". Retrieved 2009-12-31. 
  5. ^ Kensing, Kyle (2009-12-18). "Villanova Takes Home First National Title With 23-21 Comeback Win Over Montana". Retrieved 2009-12-31. 
  6. ^ Odum, Charles (December 24, 2006). "Panthers 10, Falcons 3". Retrieved December 22, 2008. 
  7. ^ "Dolphins using Wildcat formation to great success". Associated Press (USA Today). December 10, 2008. Retrieved March 15, 2009. 
  8. ^ "Dolphins Breakout Wildcat Offense in Their First Win". September 22, 2008. Retrieved December 22, 2008. 
  9. ^ Wine, Steven (October 09, 2008). 9, 2008-3490998596_x.htm "Dolphins help single wing make comeback". 9, 2008-3490998596_x.htm. Retrieved December 22, 2008. 
  10. ^ "Raiders' wildcat formation might not work against Ravens".; San Jose Mercury News website. Media News Group. October 24, 2008. 
  11. ^ Somers, Kent (November 12, 2008). "Pahokee a wild card for Cards". Retrieved December 22, 2008. 
  12. ^ "CFL UNVEILS NEW RULE CHANGES BASED ON SUGGESTIONS FROM FANS". May 11, 2009. Retrieved May 11, 2009. 

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