The University of Arkansas Razorbacks running back duo of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones made a very big impact on the Southeastern Conference (SEC) with their Wild Hog formation (predecessor to the Wild Cat offense in the NFL) before making a splash in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
Darren McFadden and Felix Jones were teammates who both very successfully played the same position (running back) at the University of Arkansas. Both players were All-Americans and this abundance of talent at the same position put the Arkansas head football coach in the position of having the very desirable “problem” of how to utilize having too many good players for one position. The solution to the dilemma of how to maximize the abilities of both Felix Jones and Darren McFadden by getting them on the field at the same time was to implement what the University of Arkansas program called the Wild Hog formation.
The Wild Hog formation was not invented in the twenty-first century by the Razorback coaching staff but rather has its roots in the distant history of college football before spread offenses and passing the ball fifty times a game were common occurrences. Before Bill Walsh popularized the concepts of the West Coast Offense (lots of short, safe, high completion percentage passes) college football in its earliest days was a run dominated sport where offensive teams seldom utilized forward passes because of the relatively low likelihood that passing plays would be successfully executed.
The Wild Hog formation and its success on the college level with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones uniquely carried over to the NFL in a manner in which most gimmick or wrinkle plays do not usually do. Many casual football fans unfamiliar with the Wild Hog formation have heard of the Wild Cat formation which has spread throughout the NFL to the point that teams with systems not long ago thought to be conservative traditional offensive schemes are even implementing what some critics (like ESPN’s MNF analyst Jon Gruden) have deemed a gimmick play.
The Wild Hog formation and the Wild Cat formation are essentially the same thing with two different names. Different teams sometimes like to call the offensive scheme by a name unique to their mascot. Wild Hog formation was used at the University of Arkansas because their mascot / nickname is the Razorbacks (a type of wild hog). The crux of the Wild Cat formation (or Wild Hog formation) is that the normal quarterback is replaced with a running back that takes the shotgun snap from center. Typically a second talented running back is in the backfield with the first running back that took the snap. The combination of replacing the traditional quarterback with an extra blocker, showing the defense a look they are not used to, and the misdirection options at the offense’s disposal make the Wild Cat offense a very potent weapon when used properly.