‘Wildcat’ formation shows direction

Published 2:10 am Saturday, September 12, 2009

One play.

One play that displayed a new option in the University of Alabama’s 2009 offensive arsenal.

One play that brought an acute awareness to Bama fans that this is a new day with new starters in a new season.

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And one play that potentially kept the Crimson Tide’s 34-24 win over Virginia Tech last week from becoming an early blowout akin to Alabama’s opener against Clemson a year ago.

With clearly a new offensive strategy this year, the Tide opened in the generically-termed “Wildcat” formation and picked up three yards with tailback Mark Ingram taking a direct snap. However — you can look at the replay — a missed block by Brad Smelley prevented Ingram from scampering on what could have been a 60-plus yard touchdown romp.

And Ingram let Smelley know about it, too.

Instead of jumping on the Hokies early, then, Bama was forced to overcome a multitude of errors, and it was not until the fourth quarter that Alabama confirmed its dominance over yet another ACC foe.

For those who like statistical comparisons, the Tide’s win over Virginia Tech was more impressive than last season’s opener. Alabama had more yards rushing (268-239) and passing (230-180) than it did against Clemson last year, and the defense held the Hokies to fewer total yards (155-188) than were gained by the Tigers.

The win was impressive to the point that expectations by Bama fans are growing even higher.

But like last year, Saturday’s opener gave head coach Nick Saban yet another perfect win – a win over a quality opponent yet filled with enough mistakes to last a half a season. No wonder the Bama mentor downplayed the victory – special teams breakdowns, blown pass coverages, and too many penalties.

Yep, you can bet Saban’s 24-hour rule to savor the win was costly for Tide players during this week’s practice.

Now ranked No. 4 in the nation, Alabama turns its attentions to Florida International in Bama’s first home game of the year tonight in Tuscaloosa. And while Saban doesn’t get much empathy from the media and fans regarding FIU, the Panthers may provide the Tide with an interesting challenge.

FIU has a capable quarterback and an outstanding receiver – T.Y. Hilton – who Saban labeled “better than any receiver” Alabama saw last week. Running out of the spread, the Panthers sling the ball all over the place, so the Tide secondary may be headed for a real education – and test.

Still, it’s a test Alabama should pass with flying colors, 38-14.