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    BLOG: Wildcats Do Their Homework

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    The scene stood in stark contrast to the one normally viewed, which finds all the 'Cats working together. For here, at one end of the field, their offensive playmakers were refining their routes and their running game. And down there, at the other end, their offensive linemen were mastering their craft, And way yonder, on another field all together, their defense was doing its own special thing.

    This was one indication that this is not a normal game week and so was the pace at which those playmakers operated.

    For here, as is the custom, they were not getting off snaps quicker than the heart beats. They instead were going about their business patiently, deliberately and with all the diligence of a young coroner cutting up his first dead body. "That's because we're trying to get the scouts lined up so they know what they're doing," Mick McCall, the offensive coordinator, would later explain.

    He was referring here to the scout team, which was being asked to mirror the funky Double Eagle defense his unit will face Saturday when it visits Army.

    Rich Ellerson is the name of the Army coach and back in the mid-90s he was on the defensive staff at the University of Arizona. The Wildcats, through that decade, used a defense poetically named the Desert Swarm, which itself had its roots in the 46 created by the crafty Buddy Ryan when he was the defensive coordinator of the Super Bowl Shufflin' Champion Bears.

    The Black Knights' Double Eagle is a direct descendent of them both and in it, explains Pat Fitzgerald, "You're going to see the center covered up a lot. . . An inside shade of the guard or an inside shade of the tackle is going to occupy the B gap. They're going to have a flex backer. They're going to have a standup, their terminology is a quick end, a standup guy. So they're going to have five threats on the line of scrimmage every rep and the possibility of a sixth up the middle or off either edge. So it's a different defense."

    "It's something we don't see everyday. That's the biggest thing," adds McCall. ""And it's just different."

    "There is," concludes wide receiver Jeremy Ebert, "a lot more pressure on reading the defense, what they're doing, and then reacting to how they're playing."

    "The thought process behind it," says Fitzgerald, "is to put a lot of guys on the line of scrimmage and be aggressive, number one. Try and create and cause confusion because they all just rush in their gaps. There's also twist games and schemes off of it that they run. And it's unique. So as their offense (the triple option) is unique so is their defense, and it makes the whole program (his) step out of what their normal game planning is and go in a different route. But, again, it's something we've been working on all winter long."

    The 'Cats, in fact, spent time on Army during winter study, during spring practice, even during their time up in Camp Kenosha. They are, then, not studying it for the first time this week, nor is the Double Eagle something they have never seen. Every team has at least a variation of it in its playbook. But most only use it on short-yardage or goal-line situations and not, like the Black Knights, on every snap. "It's having to do it every play and making adjustments off of that," says running back Jacob Schmidt when asked why this defense is so difficult. "Then when they change it up, being able to recognize that right away and change what we do appropriately."

    "It's different in the sense that it's every play," echoes center Brandon Vitabile. "So it's us getting in the film room and seeing it and getting comfortable with it."

    "You're going to find it's going to come down to one-on-one battles," offensive tackle Al Netter is saying. "A lot of times you're manned up in Double Eagle. So it's just going to be about guys executing and taking care of their job and getting a push on their guy."

    Why's it so confusing to play?

    "I don't think it's a confusing defense. They'll walk linebackers up as down guys, stand up an end. But the main thing is picking out the five guys you consider down guys and just playing from there."

    Who identifies those guys?

    "It's the communication that goes throughout the entire offensive line. But it starts with the center. He'll pick out who the guy in the middle of the defense is. Then the guards will pick out who the guys over the guards are. Then the (guys going against the) tackles, sometimes they'll be on the ball and sometimes they'll be far away. They'll mix it up. But, like I said, it's all the basic structure of five guys. . . It's picking out who the five guys are and, once you have the five guys picked out, we have different blocking assignments. So once you have the play, it's quick and you make your calls with the guy next to you and figure out where you're going to go. It's pretty basic."

    "Just the hots," Ebert says when asked the biggest problem posed by the Double Eagle. "The pressure it puts on the quarterback to make the right reads and he's got to make them quick. He's got to be efficient, he's got to make the right signals to us so we know what to do and get open for him."

    And who will he be reading?

    Mostly safeties. But also linebackers for pressure."

    And will the quarterback be reading him as well as the defense?

    "Yeah. It's a lot of reading," he says, and now he is just short of laughing at the thought of trying to explain it all. "It's complicated. It's very complicated. Based on what they're doing is what we're doing. If the linebacker's blitzing, do one thing. If the safety's rolling, another thing. Very complicated."

    "Really, there's no confusion," says Schmidt. "We just have to recognize their front and adjust our protections and our reads off of that. But regardless of the opponent, we have to do that. Army presents a unique challenge just with the defense they run. So whether we're in the backfield or spread out like the wide outs, there're different reads that we have to make on who's going to be hot, or what coverage they're in telling us what routes we have to adjust to."

    Does he have a single read?

    "It definitely depends on the play. Certain plays, there's one guy I'm keying on. But there are definitely plays and looks they're going to give us where I've got to read two, three guys before I can get into a route or know what route to run."

    All this reading to recognize which man to block and which route to run and which hole to run through? It happens in the same amount of time it takes you to grab a potato chip and chew it up and swallow it down.

    With all this reading going on, we wonder if the 'Cats will be forced to slow down the pace of their offense on Saturday. Says McCall: "No, no, no, no, no."

    "All defenses try to cause some confusion," McCall finally says. "It's just different alignments. But we're still playing with 11 guys on 11."

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