Surprise Wildcat Installation Recalls Historical WVU Change

Surprise Wildcat Installation Recalls Historical WVU Change

NORMAN, Okla. — For longtime Mountaineer fans, West Virginia’s new offensive formations in yesterday’s Oklahoma game might have sparked memories of nearly half a century ago. For it was on Dec. 30, 1969 that WVU unveiled a surprise wishbone formation in the Peach Bowl, racking up 356 rushing yards and throwing the ball just twice in a 14-3 victory.

Unfortunately, WVU’s wildcat against the Sooners didn’t meet with the same overall success, as the Mountaineers fell to OU. However, the formation and the plays out of it were excellent, producing many of West Virginia’s 250 rushing yards (the Mountaineers’ second best game total of the season), and four touchdowns.

Installing an entirely new offensive sequence is difficult under the best of circumstances, and this was hardly such a situation. Missing quarterback Will Grier and offensive lineman Kyle Bosch, offensive coordinator Jake Spavital managed to get the wildcat in place in just a week’s worth of practice. It helped that the week was the one of Thanksgiving, which meant the team had no classes and could pay a bit more attention to football, but NCAA limits on practice time also meant that WVU couldn’t stay out on the field for hours on end each day, as that Mountaineer team of 1969 reportedly did. Additionally, it had three-plus weeks in which to perfect the wishbone sets. This year’s team had three days.

Running back Kennedy McKoy, who served as the triggerman for the set, was comfortable early in the installation process.

“I did a little my freshman year but after that it was pretty much  running back,” he said of his previous experience taking snaps from center. “It helped me being able to already be comfortable in the shotgun and taking a snap, giving an indicator, things like that,” he said. “I wouldn’t really say any of it was hard. I played it before in high school so it came back to me.”

McKoy was told Tuesday WVU would use the wildcat this weekend, but he likely didn’t envision getting so much work. In roughly 20 wildcat sets, plus handoffs from quarterback Chris Chugunov, he had career highs of 25 carries, 137 yards and three touchdowns. While he was the busiest he has ever been in a collegiate backfield, he didn’t have a problem with the demands of running the offense.
“We only had about (five) plays in that set, so we repped those a lot and it was enough to give me a lot of reps to where I was comfortable,” he said. “Once I broke a few I thought they would adjust, but the O-line did a great job. They just kept leaning on them and opening up small gaps I could fit through. It’s just like running back.”
Now that WVU has the base set installed, might it continue to be part of the Mountaineer attack? Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital seems to be trending in that direction.
“It can be (a permanent part of the offense) moving forward,” he observed. “We had success with it. Kennedy has a really good feel for that.  I think we can get more creative with it. I think we can grow off that and see where it goes. We have some time with the bowl prep.”
Don’t expect a wholesale change to the wishbone, as West Virginia effected in 1969, but it won’t be a surprise to see more of this, especially if Will Grier is unable to make a near-miracle recovery to play in the bowl game. As for McKoy, he’s primed.
“I am ready to show people what I can do other than running back,” he said with an anticipatory smile. “I can throw some passes.”