I did something Monday night I almost never do. I watched a ballgame and in mid-stream changed my preference for who I wanted to win.
Jets-Dolphins. I was pulling for the Jetropolitans, primarily because of Rex Ryan (enjoyed working with him his year at OU) but also because for some goofball reason, I’ve always liked New York football teams. Baseball, not so much. The Yankees and Mets can lose every game and it’s OK by me. But the Giants and Jets I like.
Yet late in that game I switched allegiance, primarily because of the absolutely bogus pass interference call that gave the Jets a 27-24 lead with five minutes left. Don’t look now, but the NFL is being ruined by penalty flags, some of them game-deciding flags against defensive backs. The league has got to do something. Officials are deciding ballgames unlike anything we’ve ever seen in sport.
Anyway, I began hoping the Dolphins could stage a late rally and in part, I was thrilled with Miami’s wildcat offense: the newfangled formation in which a quarterback leaves the field (or goes out to flanker) and the ball is snapped directly to a tailback.
I love the wildcat because it’s different. For the most part, the NFL forever has been a vanilla league. Most teams all do the same thing offensively. Occasionally comes a shotgun, or a one-back, but within 15 minutes everybody is doing it.
The Wildcat is different. The Wildcat is the NFL’s wishbone. The Wildcat says we’re going to run the ball and you know we’re going to run the ball and we don’t believe you can stop it.
The Wildcat is part single wing and part wing-T and part shotgun. The Dolphins run it with tailback Ronnie Brown, who Monday night threw a pass (and completed) for the first time all season and also ran deceptive handoffs to backfield mate Ricky Williams and also kept the ball a ton, including a game-winning touchdown with six seconds left, when Brown charged up the middle and plunged into the end zone from two yards out despite very little running room.
And the Wildcat got me to thinking about OU-Texas. Will we see any new wrinkles Saturday in the Cotton Bowl?
I don’t think we’ll see any Wildcat. The Wildcat works best for a team that is limited at quarterback. The Dolphins the last two years have had the dangling Chads — Pennington and Henne — who are functional NFL QBs but not superstars. Snapping the ball to Ronnie Brown is not like taking the ball out of Peyton Manning’s hands.
I don’t recommend taking the ball out of the hands of Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy. I recommend putting the ball in their hands. If either team decided to go with the Wildcat, it’s more likely OU. The Wildcat is not a formation used by teams that can’t run the ball in the first place. It’s a formation used by teams that already can run the ball and want to do it even more effectively. Texas’ running game has been minimal.
But that doesn’t mean the Sooners or Longhorns can’t produce surprises, and I don’t mean like OU’s switch to the wishbone in 1970. The changes could be schematic — OU’s new draw play with Quentin Griffin in 2002 ran the ‘Horns ragged; Texas’ move of Jordan Shipley into a tight end/slot position last October opened all kinds of pass-route space in the Sooner middle.
The changes could be personnel. In October 2001, redshirt freshman Mark Clayton had made little impact, with six catches for 37 yards in four games. Then he had six catches for 65 yards against Texas and spent four years as the primary receiver for Jason White and Nate Hybl.
OU-Texas history is full of Sooner tricks. Marcus Dupree’s reverse. Joe Washington’s halfback pass and quick kick. James Allen’s statue-of-liberty counter, which was a beautiful play, it just didn’t work.