In an effort to stir Arizona’s sleepy running game, three backs might be better than one.
And all at the same time.
The Wildcats are getting more comfortable with the full-house backfield formation it practiced through spring and fall, using it several times to reasonable effect against Oregon on Saturday. Arizona deployed it four times on its first scoring drive, getting a 15-yard carry from tailback Ka’Deem Carey, who was following lead blocks from Taimi Tutogi and tight end Drew Robinson.
Here’s how it looks:
Quarterback Nick Foles lines up in the shotgun, flanked by two backs (Tutogi and Robinson). A tailback lines up behind Foles, as in the Pistol formation. Tutogi often went in motion behind Foles to get a running start toward the line of scrimmage as he and Robinson tried to open holes.
Arizona put two receivers out wide, looking for single coverage somewhere if defenses committed a safety to stopping the run. If not, then Arizona has seven blockers for seven defenders — and the tailback has to make a play.
“What it does, it just gives us versatility,” said running backs coach Garret Chachere.
“It balances up the offense, which balances up the defense. We’re even. We can go to the right, we can go to the left, we can go up the middle.
“We can run some of the same plays you would run if you had two tight ends and one back. You can run some of the same plays you would run if you had four wides and one back. You can run some of the same plays as if you had two backs and a tight end.
“Because you’re balanced, the defense has to balance up and play basic. It allows you to do a bunch of things.”
This seems to be the newest wrinkle in the battle between offensive and defensive coordinators. As defenses have become sleeker and more nimble to handle spread offenses, the spread offenses are trying to introduce better ways to be powerful in the run game.
According to a story from the Daily Oklahoman in Sept. 2010, then-Oklahoma State coordinator Dana Holgorsen unveiled the formation in last season’s opener against Washington State. He started toying with the idea because of “sheer boredom in the summer,” he said.
Of course, there are few new ideas in football. Just new twists on old ideas. Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman later noted that the formation was similar to Oklahoma’s Diamond T formation from 1969, the difference being that back then the quarterback was under center.
Arizona fans saw Oklahoma State use the update version of the formation extensively earlier this month in OSU’s 37-14 victory in Stillwater.
Given Holgersen’s ties to the Arizona coaching staff — working with offensive coordinator Seth Littrell, receivers coach Dave Nichol and offensive line coach Robert Anae at Texas Tech — it’s not a big surprise that the idea migrated to Tucson after last season.
“A lot of people who use it, we kind of all know each other and run the same stuff,” Littrell said.
The original idea at Arizona is that this would be a different way to run power running sets; whatever the Wildcats did last season didn’t work.
Arizona used the full-house backfield once in the opener against NAU, but then shelved it until last Saturday.
“Like anything, you have to gain confidence through repetition,” coach Mike Stoops said.
The Wildcats need something, because they rank second-to-last nationally in rushing at 62.25 yards per game. Keep in mind that allowing so many sacks (10 in the past two games) hurts the rushing totals.
Carey and starting tailback Keola Antolin combined for 25 carries for 103 yards against Oregon — not great, but an improvement. Not all those runs came out of the full-house backfield, but it should be something we see more of as the season goes on.
“You put a lot of time on it in practice, you’re going to do it,” Chachere said. “It’s not a gimmick.”
Tutogi and Robinson are the keys.
“They have to give us a physical presence at the line of scrimmage that we need to get our backs started,” Stoops said. “If we can do that, I think these backs can make something happen.”