It started out as just an idea that the Jackson coaches were toying around with.
It’s now turned into an integral part of the Wolfpack offense.
On the last day of the University of Washington football camp, Jackson coach Joel Vincent decided to run an offensive formation in which the ball was directly snapped to the running back as opposed to the quarterback.
It’s been called the Wildcat offense and has been run by some college and professional teams. The University of Arkansas ran it with Darren McFadden.
“We had some success the first day we did it and we just kind of built on it from there,” Vincent said.
With junior Andy Gay returning at quarterback, Vincent knew the Timberwolves were going to be running a lot of the offense from the shotgun spread.
“We also knew that there were going to be times in critical situations where we wanted to really be able to run the football and if there’s any knock on the shotgun spread it’s ‘Can you get tough yards when you need tough yards?’”
Vincent and new offensive coordinator Alex Barashkoff put their heads together to try to figure out a solution.
They decided to take a closer look at the Wildcat offense.
And they found two solutions.
“We found that Riley (Carr) and Taylor (Cox) are pretty good back there, taking direct snaps and running the offense from that standpoint,” Vincent said. “We just kind of ran with it from there.”
The direct snap not only gets the ball in the hands of two of Jackson’s most potent playmakers quicker, it presents challenges to opposing defenses.
“In that particular mode of our offense, the other one (running back), whichever one is not taking it, is still an option in the offense, whether it’s going to be handed to them, thrown to them or whatever,” Vincent said.
The bottom line for Vincent is that “if it’s third and short, fourth and short, rather than having Andy take the snap and hand the ball. Can we just snap it directly to the guy we want running it? It’s all quick.”
For Cox, an all-league running back, learning to take the direct snap from the center was a snap.
“It’s just another way to get us the ball,” Cox said. “It’s not that hard to get used to. The first time we put it in we kind of picked it up pretty fast. We kind of put it in a couple games into the season and we ran it from there.”
Cox has battled a nagging ankle injury that kept him out of one of the biggest games of the season against Edmonds-Woodway, which Jackson won.
It was a difficult decision for Vincent to rest his star running back. He admits he was very tempted to put Cox out there.
“He probably could have went, but we had a good game plan,” Vincent said. “We thought we could get in there and get it done without him in the hopes that it would help us out down the stretch. Fortunately, that worked out for us.”
Both Gay and Carr consider Cox to be the top running back in the state. Gay marvels at Cox’s running ability.
“It’s pretty fun to watch him run,” Gay said. “You hand it off. You see that – Oh, he’s getting stopped there and then he just breaks a tackle and he’s off to the races. … I wouldn’t trade him for any other back in the state.”
Chances are Cox would say the same thing about Gay, who’s emerged as one of the top young quarterbacks in the league.
There’s no question who is the leader in the huddle on offense.
“Last year he didn’t have as much experience, but this year he’s emerged as one of our team leaders,” Cox said. “He’s really the captain of our offense and everyone rallies behind him. … Everyone looks to him for big plays just as much as me or anyone else.”
In Jackson’s victory over Mariner, Gay showed maturity and skills against what many people viewed up to that point as the best team in the league.
“He stepped up and made some tough throws with pressure in his face,” Vincent said. “He was able to elude pressure a couple of times and buy enough time to actually find time to throw the ball. … He has a ton more confidence than he had this time last year. His steady improvement has been a big help to us, no doubt.”
Carr, the Wolfpack’s middle linebacker and point man on defense, certainly has had his share of highlights on offense. He scored three touchdowns and ran for nearly 100 yards in the win over Edmonds-Woodway when Cox was held out.
Like Cox, Carr had no experience taking the direct snap prior to this season and like his teammate, it didn’t take him long to get used to it.
“It look pretty good. It turned out to work pretty good,” Carr said.
As good as he is on offense, Carr is just as integral, if not more, on defense. As the middle linebacker, he’s responsible for calling out signals to his teammates.
“He’s got to recognize what he sees in front of him, make defensive calls and make sure the guys are lined up right,” Vincent said.
Then there are the hits.
Gay is glad that he’s on the same team as Carr rather than going up against him.
“He’s flying around there. Every tackle he’s near,” Gay said. “I don’t know of a play where he’s not there helping out on the tackle or trying to make a play.”
When Cox and Carr are in the same backfield, Gay definitely is confident.
“I put our backfield up against anyone in the state,” he said.