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How the Wildcat offense came to be

Danny Nutt can't flip on a game these days without seeing someone running the Wildcat offense he helped popularize three years ago in a film room at Arkansas.

While the sleight-of-hand scheme has been duplicated by coaches from high schools to the NFL, the original will be on display tonight when Mississippi lines up in the Wild Rebel formation against South Carolina.

The roots of the offense can be traced to Pop Warner's single-wing, and a number of high school coaches were running variations of the single-wing they called Wildcat. Gus Malzahn was one of them, and he brought the package to Arkansas in 2006 when he left the high school ranks to join the staff of Houston Nutt, now in his second year at Ole Miss.

Danny Nutt, who coached running backs for his brother at Arkansas, suggested the wrinkle that became the distinct characteristic of the offense - a direct snap to the tailback - as a way to get the ball in the hands of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.

"We were in there watching film and I said, 'If you really want this play to work, why don't we put D-Mac at quarterback and (use) Felix as the motion man?'" Nutt recalled.

McFadden and Jones both ran for more than 1,000 yards that season as defensive coordinators scrambled to figure out the scheme. McFadden, who played some quarterback in high school, threw three touchdowns out of the Wild Hog in '06.

"He was a true triple threat. He could hand it, he could run it and he could throw it. He had a beautiful throwing motion," Houston Nutt said Wednesday. "That's where it really took off. Then you've got Felix Jones come flying by. Now it does put the defense on their heels. Most people don't have all three phases."

Former Arkansas assistant David Lee took the package to the NFL last year when he became the Miami Dolphins' quarterbacks coach. Houston Nutt recalls getting a voicemail from Lee after the Dolphins sprang the Wildcat on the New England Patriots, telling Nutt to watch the highlights of the Dolphins' upset win.

"Sure enough, you turn it on and there it goes," Nutt said.

As the Wildcat has become more prevalent, defenses have become better at stopping it.

"Most teams run the same plays out of it. Of course, you don't know which one they're coming with," Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said.

Spurrier credited Ellis Johnson, USC's assistant head coach for defense, for switching to a three-man front to counter the Wild Rebel last year in the Gamecocks' 31-24 win in Oxford.

"I think we stopped it once or twice and they quit doing it," Spurrier said. "So that's what we've got to do. We've got to stop it a few times and they'll go back to normal offense with (Jevan) Snead at quarterback."

Though health issues forced Danny Nutt to move into an administrative role two years ago, he has not forgotten the Wildcat.

"I still play around with it in my office," he said. "I drew up a play for Houston (this week) and he liked it. They might use it (tonight)."

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