The Arizona football team plans to use the shovel pass to dig itself out of jams.
The play, designed to counter blitzes, has the quarterback flipping the ball forward to a running back or receiver.
UA showed off the shovel pass last weekend when the Wildcats unveiled their new, multispread attack offense at a scrimmage at Arizona Stadium.
“It fits our system,” offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes said. “It encourages the D-lineman to rush.”
The pass is a low-risk play with plenty of positives when executed properly.
Quarterback Willie Tuitama will drop back in the pocket – usually behind the guard who is pulling and tight with the tackle – and shovel the ball either to backs Chris Jennings and Xavier Smith or to a receiver in the area.
If the pass is dropped, it’s incomplete. If it’s caught but the receiver is brought down for little gain, the defense still has to respect the play, which might slow the pass rush.
When the play works at its best, Tuitama will dish off to a back right before the line converges on him, which leaves the middle of the field open.
The Wildcats tried the play at least three times in their scrimmage, with Smith getting 11 yards the first time, and Jennings going for 7 yards the next try. A third attempt was incomplete.
Its effect was felt.
“A lot of times, the problem is, they spread you out, and you have to get into your pass rush quickly and get into the right spot,” UA linebacker Spencer Larsen said. “If you take your eyes off the quarterback for a split second, they step in there and shovel it. There is a lot of space between you and the back.”
The shovel acts like a draw at times, which attacks an area vacated by a blitzer when the quarterback flips the ball forward.
It settles down defenses, which could result in less pressure on a quarterback in the pocket and more time to look deeper.
“It is a really good football play. It really complements their offense,” UA defensive coordinator Mark Stoops said. “You have to be so precise, and you have to be good in your drops. That is like a run play for them. It gets us dropping and lets them get space.”
It’s a safe trick play that could help cut down on sacks. UA had 31 of them last season, when it finished 94th in passing among 119 Division I teams.
Even if the shovel pass is not used, it leaves one more thing for a defense to prepare for during the week and to anticipate on game day.
“If we are playing a team with that, we are game planning certain things to it,” Stoops said. “It is a good play, something like a draw. You have to react to it, and a bunch of guys have to be swarming to the ball.”