UT vs. Wildcat package

Kentucky's "Wildcat package" lacks a trigger-man as powerful as Alabama's Mark Ingram or as fast as Ole Miss' Dexter McCluster. But the UK direct-snap package features something the Tide and Rebel packages did not ...

The threat of a pass.

That could be a huge problem for Tennessee in Saturday night's regular-season finale at Lexington.

When the Big Blue goes to its direct-snap package, receiver Randall Cobb moves into shotgun formation. He can't bowl over tacklers like Ingram or outrun cornerbacks like McCluster but he can throw the football like a quarterback. No wonder ... he played the position in high school.

Ingram got roughly half of his 99 rushing yards vs. Tennessee on direct-snap plays and McCluster got a bunch of his 282 rushing yards vs. Tennessee on direct-snap plays ... although neither presented a hint of a passing threat. Cobb, conversely, poses a serious passing threat. He passed for 542 yards in 2008 and has thrown for 46 yards in 2009. Naturally, that has the attention of UT's head coach.

"The hardest thing to defend is if the guy taking the shotgun snap can throw the ball really well," Lane Kiffin said. "Now you've got a lot of problems."

Senior defensive tackle Wes Brown agreed, noting that Vol defensive backs must really be on their toes Saturday night.

"Those guys have to be disciplined," he said. "They have to respect the run and the pass at the same time. That can get you in a bind. If you suck up for the run they can hit you with the pass. The receiver can look like he's coming to block you, then slip behind you. We'll have to prepare for everything because this will be one of those games."

Given the overwhelming success McCluster had running Ole Miss' version of the direct-snap package against the Vols, Tennessee is sure to get a full dose of direct-snap plays from the Wildcats.

"They're going to notice what Ole Miss did to us in the Wild Rebel," Brown conceded. "But I'm sure Coach Monte (Kiffin) has a lot of good stuff for us to put in. I'm confident we'll go out and perform well."

The Vols will have to perform at least 100 percent better than they did against McCluster, who made them look utterly inept at times.

Brown conceded that he and his teammates are "not satisfied at all" with the way they defended the Rebels' direct-snap package, adding: "They got after us pretty good. That's a challenge we want to take. The defense has set a goal to play well against it because last time was pretty embarrassing."

The key benefit of the direct-snap package is numerical. In most offenses the quarterback hands the ball to someone or throws it to someone, then gets out of the way. Essentially, that leaves his team going 10 against 11. With the quarterback being a threat to run the ball in the direct-snap package, however, the matchup is 11 against 11.

"The quarterback is now a weapon," Brown noted. "He can run, he can hand it off, he can even throw it. There's so many aspects of the Wildcat that you have to look for and practice for. We'll have to fly to the football, make sure we're on top of everything as far as filling our gaps, and just really play sound football."

Direct-snap plays are especially confounding when they include motion and misdirection. Just figuring out who has the ball is tricky.

"Oh, it is," Brown said. "A guy will come in motion and hit you on a quick sweep. You have to chase the ball down. There's nothing you can do when the ball is going that wide. And it's hard to find the ball because it can go so many places."

The fact most teams use the direct-snap play as a change of pace, rather than their base offense, makes it still more difficult to stop. Defenders simply don't see it often enough to get familiar with it.

"You practice for years against normal plays with a guy under center," Lane Kiffin said. "Now you've got to get ready to do something that's completely different. It changes all of your fits and changes all of your roles."

Some NFL defenses have disrupted the direct-snap package by blitzing. Kiffin says this can be a successful antidote on occasion.

"At times it is," he said. "The problem with colleges is they spend so much time with it. Most NFL teams that run it might have one or two plays in the package. These college teams run it a lot more, so they tend to have a bigger package and more things they can do out of it. You have to be careful as far as blitzing it. If you get out of a gap a play can break even bigger."

Given Kentucky's success running the direct-snap package and Tennessee's struggles defending it, there's little doubt that it will be a key element of Saturday night's game.

"We've struggled at times with it this season," Kiffin said. "Alabama did well with it against us and obviously Ole Miss did with Dexter. We worked on it all last week, anticipating maybe we'd see some of it (vs. Vanderbilt) last week, which we didn't. We'll work on it again this week.

"It's our No. 1 priority to stop."


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