Kansas State University

'Wildcat' is old hat at K-State

MANHATTAN — It used to be difficult for Tysyn Hartman to pinpoint where he first saw the wildcat formation.

Was it two years ago, when Arkansas coach Houston Nutt decided to bypass his quarterback and send snaps directly to star running back Darren McFadden? Was it last year, when the NFL's Miami Dolphins started hiking the ball to Ronnie Brown with fellow running back Ricky Williams by his side?

That's certainly when the formation gained huge popularity and began spreading across the football world like the flu, but in the back of his mind Hartman always thought the offense looked familiar.

Then the sophomore safety arrived at Kansas State and figured it all out.

In the late 1990s, coach Bill Snyder ran a similar formation when he had Michael Bishop as his quarterback.

"Snyder was one of the first to do it," Hartman said. "He really put the quarterback run game on the map."

Only back then, it didn't have a catchy name, and Snyder referred to it as the single-wing formation. Some say Snyder was the first to run such an offense, but he hasn't taken any credit for it.

All he likes to say is, "It's something we've always done here."

That's why none of K-State's coaches took a special approach to the offense when they installed it this year with running back Daniel Thomas at the helm. To them, it was nothing new.

Backup running back Keithen Valentine, who lines up next to Thomas in the wildcat formation, said coaches went about running it the same way they would any other set of plays.

"They never put an emphasis on it or anything like that," Valentine said. "We just put it in and started running it."

Kind of like the way Snyder first installed the formation a dozen years ago, when he realized that by forgoing a handoff from his quarterback to his running back and directly snapping the ball to his chosen ballcarrier, he could create a numbers mismatch.

Suddenly there were no wasted players, just runners and blockers. And one of his fastest runners was starting each play with the ball. The runner could also occasionally throw the ball.

Snyder knew he was onto something when it helped K-State's offense effectively move the ball against its strong defense in practices.

"We became a good defensive football team because we were able to put more people in the box than the other team could block," Snyder said. "The only way to even that out was to jump our quarterback out and remove a man that way. It was a product of working against our own defense and trying to find a stalemate in terms of numbers, if not an advantage."

An advantage it gave the Wildcats, and they climbed to as high as No. 2 in the AP poll in 1998 with Bishop running the single-wing.

Today's wildcat formation, which involves much more pre-snap movement and deception than the single-wing used to, has paid dividends for many other teams.

Because of his familiarity with its origins, Snyder has been asked repeatedly over the past few weeks to share his thoughts on how much it is currently being used at all levels.

He says none of what he's seen has surprised him. Other coaches are simply beginning to understand what he realized many years ago.

"It just made sense to us a long, long time ago," he said, "You can put someone back there who may or may not be your quarterback, who is able to run the ball reasonably well and still have the capacity to throw it, and you kinda help yourself."

No off days — Snyder is a big fan of the bye week. Always has been, always will be.

In the past, he tried to schedule a break from games at about this time, right before the start of conference play.

So when he looked at the Big 12 conference schedule this week and saw that Kansas and Missouri both have this week off, while his Wildcats are in the middle of a 12-game stretch without a break, he became frustrated.

He thinks it puts Kansas State at a disadvantage.

"We always had an open-date schedule, and that's significant to me," he said. "To have a 12-game schedule without an open date is difficult. It's doubly difficult when you're thinned out and don't have the kind of depth that is necessary to get through a season. It's a hard schedule."

K-State athletic director John Currie said he is also in favor of having a week without a game, but explained the Wildcats are without one this year because they moved their game with Iowa State from the end of the season to accommodate playing in Arrowhead.

Our ball — K-State, which has possessed the ball for an average of 35 minutes, 58 seconds a game this season, leads the nation in that category.

"It does help out our defense," Snyder said. "But possessing the ball is only half the equation; we need to take advantage of it and put some points on the board. If we can get our defense off the field, for the right reasons, then it is very beneficial."

Shorter trip — The last time K-State played a regular-season conference game on a neutral field, it went a long way away to do so. The Wildcats played No. 11 Nebraska in Tokyo to conclude the 1992 season.

"At that time it was called the Coca-Cola Bowl," Snyder said. "They weren't after us. They sought out Nebraska. And Nebraska, if they were going to travel all night and do those sorts of things, they might as well do it against us. We were a rag doll at the time."

K-State lost 38-24.