Of all the changes that are being made to Arizona’s offense, the biggest one may end up happening before the ball is ever snapped.
For the first time in what seems like forever, Wildcat quarterbacks will find themselves going under center this fall instead of being exclusively in shotgun formation. Head coach Jedd Fisch and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Brennan Carroll plan to mix and match the different snap types depending on the situation.
“For us, we need to in what we do and how we run our offense,” Fisch said. “There’s the old argument, why do you want to go back five yards to move forward one. You can’t run your quarterback in any zone read play when you’re under center, you can either sneak it or hand it (off), or throw it. If you’re in gun you can do it all. We will have both options.”
The shotgun has been synonymous with Arizona’s offense since at least 2012, when Rich Rodriguez implemented a spread attack that was heavy on zone read plays by the quarterback. Kevin Sumlin and his offensive coordinator, Noel Mazzone, maintained the status quo though without as much QB running, much to the detriment of Khalil Tate’s stock.
RichRod made it work, with Arizona averaging at least 33 points per game in five of his six seasons, while under Sumlin/Mazzone the Wildcats went from 31.3 per game in 2018 to an abysmal 17.4 in 2020.
Perfecting the center/quarterback exchange has been a key focal point during spring ball, and the results so far have been mixed.
“It was iffy early on but it’s getting better,” Carroll said. “We’re not a finished product.”
Fisch said he’s seen noticeable improvement in that area since the first practice, mostly related to the comfort level of the quarterbacks taking those snaps.
“You watch those quarterbacks the first day and they’re having their hands completely under center and really hoping they get the ball,” he said. “As we continue to get confident we slide back further, further and further and start living on the raggedy edge, which is good.”
It helps that Arizona has a veteran at the position in Josh McCauley, who is in his sixth season with the program. He’s also on his fourth offensive line coach at the school.
McCauley says he’s never been part of an offense that snaps under center before, but he’s excited for a new thing to learn. He’s also thrilled about Carroll’s desire to crosstrain Arizona’s offensive linemen at multiple positions, which has led to him playing some at guard during the spring.
“Everybody’s playing all over,” McCauley said. “That’s really important for O-linemen, because you come in and you work a different position every day. I think it’s a great way to learn the offense better, you get a bigger picture. You learn to work with the 15, 16 guys we have right now.”
Added Carroll: “We need guys with versatility, we need guys who can play more than one position. We’ve got a bunch of guys bouncing around now for that same purpose.”