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August 11, 2011

Wildcat a good option?



It was unveiled a few years ago and since then, it seems like every college football program has its own variation. Take the fastest player on the team, put him behind center, snap the ball and have him run.

The "Wildcat" has become a staple in collegiate offenses, and South Carolina is no exception. The Gamecocks knew Stephon Gilmore ran the offense in high school, and used him in the same look for a handful of plays in college, so even though it was never a mainstay in the playbook, it was there.

Along came 2011, featuring a powerful running game helmed by Marcus Lattimore, a dual running threat in quarterbacks Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw and a new option - former high-school Wildcat quarterback Bruce Ellington. Coach Steve Spurrier knew what he had in the form of Ellington and was already proclaiming it when Ellington decided to play football, then re-visited it at practice.

"Oh, that's a secret," Spurrier gently chided. "We're trying to surprise them with Bruce in the shotgun. Yeah, we're going to have that available every game with Bruce, or Connor back there."

It will give a new dimension to the USC offense, but raises questions.

Is it really necessary? And if it becomes a major part of the offense, will it take away from what's already established?

"I'm comfortable with it," Ellington recently said, "but that's all we ran in high school. I don't think it would mess up what we already have."

Spurrier's playbook for the 2011 season assumedly includes several plays where Lattimore runs the ball and several more where Garcia runs a pass play with Alshon Jeffery as his primary receiver. Some would believe that would be the only two plays the Gamecocks need to run.

Having the Wildcat in place is a boon to have, since it presents a different look. But once it's run with Ellington in place, does it not diagram to the opposing defenses what's going to happen with Ellington in the game?

Plus, if it works, does it cause Spurrier to employ it more and more, and potentially take away the rhythm of an offense that carried the Gamecocks to an SEC East championship last season?

"It gives us a little different look," Spurrier recently said, "and Bruce is that quick, little find-a-hole guy.

The Wildcat with somebody under center is already in the playbook, Spurrier said, but how much of it remains to be seen. Spurrier has never been a coach to game-plan a trick formation that "must" be in the game, preferring to substitute it in on the fly, and there's the matter of personnel.

Ellington, he said, has been an excellent athlete thus far, reporting to preseason practice with a full knowledge of the offense. Spurrier said he's never had a first-year player report to the team knowing that, and mentioned that Ellington's mother said he spent the summer studying the playbook.

Ellington has been all that he's supposed to be and more in practice, dashing around the field as if he was living a replay of 2009, the last time he touched a football in a game. He has to translate that over into a game, though, where the speed will be much faster and the hits will be much more brutal.

The sophomore is certainly put-together enough to handle a beating, but has to prove it, just as he has to prove his reliability if the offense is put in on Sept. 3. Spurrier has been notoriously trigger-happy with his offense if he tries one play and it doesn't work right off.

He seemed confident he wouldn't have that problem this year, with Ellington around, and Shaw or even Gilmore to take over in a pinch. Just got to take the acid test.

And then see if it will help or hinder the plan based on the tests that have already been passed.

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