Quarterbacks On The Run

FAYETTEVILLE -- Florida coach Urban Meyer added the formation to his playbook after he caught a glimpse of it during a trip to Kansas State several years ago. He has been a fan of it ever since.

As an up-and-coming coach, Meyer spent several days studying what former Kansas State coach Bill Snyder did in practice.

What impressed Meyer were the different ways Snyder used then-quarterback Michael Bishop, particularly how he let Bishop take the snap and run with the football. Out of desperation, Meyer tried replicating that in his first head coaching stop.

"We were hired at Bowling Green and had one quarterback, a kid named Josh Harris (who) played actually tailback the year before," Meyer said. "We were really struggling personnel wise, so we put him at the direct snap to get people out of the box."

But Meyer isn't the only offensive-minded coach thinking "outside the box."

In fact, he'll get a chance at 5 p.m. Saturday to face a counterpart who also thought it was in his team's best interest to put his best offensive player at quarterback to take advantage of his elusiveness.

When former Springdale High coach Gus Malzahn was hired last year to be Arkansas' offensive coordinator, he brought with him a formation known as "Wildcat." It's similar to what Meyer has been doing, and it's been a huge success for the No. 8 Razorbacks (10-2, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) this season.

And because of sophomore Darren McFadden's versatility as a powerful running back and capable passer, the formation practically has been unstoppable.

"We'd like to think it'd be unstoppable," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "But there has been some times that we hadn't gained too many yards in that formation, although it has kept defenses off-balance."

The winner of Saturday's SEC Championship Game in Atlanta could be determined by whichever defense can stop the other team's Wildcat formation.

For Florida (11-1, 7-1 SEC), that means containing McFadden, who has emerged as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. For Arkansas, that means keeping an eye on either backup quarterback Tim Tebow or wide receiver Percy Harvin.

"I think (the formation) is tremendous," Meyer said. "I don't believe we do it as much as Arkansas, but I think they do a great job with (McFadden)."

In Florida's 21-14 win at Florida State on Saturday, Harvin lined up at quarterback, and after taking the direct snap, he raced 41 yards for a touchdown.

At other times, Meyer has put Tebow into the lineup to take advantage of the freshman's running ability. Tebow ranks second among quarterbacks nationally with an average of 5.6 yards per carry, and he's Florida's second-leading rusher with 399 yards on 71 carries. He's also rushed for a team-high seven touchdowns.

"Tebow is a big, strong guy," Florida linebacker Earl Everett said. "Everybody can see he's a pretty hard guy to tackle."

So is McFadden.

The Razorbacks didn't emerge as an offensive force until a few games into the season when McFadden started lining up at quarterback and taking the snap in the shotgun formation.

Arkansas has run the Wildcat formation 52 times this season with McFadden at quarterback, gaining 453 yards and accounting for eight touchdowns. The sophomore also has completed all five of his pass attempts for 70 yards, including a pair of touchdown passes.

"I just feel like our coaches are trying to use me to the best of my ability," McFadden said. "Whatever it takes for me to get the ball, I feel like they're trying to do."

During Malzahn's early years at Springdale High, he had quarterback Dusty Johnson run the Wildcat formation. Current Arkansas wide receiver Damian Williams took a few snaps at quarterback for the Bulldogs last season, and Malzahn hoped to take advantage of it with McFadden, as well.

"We knew that we could use it in certain situations, mainly-short yardage situations earlier," Malzahn said. "But it does allow us to get our best players on the field at the same time."

While Malzahn brought the play, it was actually Arkansas running backs coach Danny Nutt's idea to put McFadden -- who played quarterback some at Pulaski Oak Grove High -- behind center and let him take the direct snap.

And the Wildcat formation has evolved, even since Malzahn implemented it earlier this season. Each week a different element is added to the formation to surprise teams who have planned to stop it. A new wrinkle will likely be added for Florida.

"It just has been a very good package for us," Nutt said.

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