Wildcat formation describes a formation for the offense in gridiron football in which the ball is snapped not to the quarterback but directly to a player of another position lined up at the quarterback position (in most systems, this is a running back, but some playbooks have the wide receiver, fullback, or tight end taking the snap). The Wildcat features an unbalanced offensive line and looks to the defense like a sweep behind zone blocking. A player moves across the formation prior to the snap. However, once this player crosses the position of the running back who will receive the snap, the play develops unlike the sweep.
Defending against the Wildcat is straight forward, but the defense does not always identify that a play will use the Wildcat, and preparing to defend against it may take practice time away from other preparation. If a defense interprets the Wildcat as a regular sweep play to one side, it may reduce its defense of the weak side and make it easier for the running back to advance the ball by running to that side.
The Wildcat is a gambit rather than an overall offensive philosophy. It can be a part of many offenses. 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.
The Wildcat scheme is a derivation of Pop Warner's Single Wing offense which dates back to the 1920s. The Wildcat was invented by Billy Ford and Ryan Wilson, and was originally called the "Dual" formation. The offensive coaching staff of the Kansas State Wildcats, namely including Bill Snyder and Del Miller, made significant contributions to the formation's development throughout the 1990s and 2000s and is often cited as being the formation's namesake. It has been used since the late 1990s at every level of the game, including the CFL, NFL, NCAA, NAIA, and many high schools across North America. Specific coaching staffs have used it with various innovations and have given their versions a variety of names. The Wildcat was reinvented by Steve Spurrier in 2005 against the Kentucky Wildcats to utilize Syvelle Newton in all offensive positions on the field. The experiment by Spurrier was taken and perfected by Arkansas Razorbacks the following year with the 3 headed monster backfield which consisted of Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, and Peyton Hillis.
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