TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The most important thing to know about Florida State’s version of the “wildcat” formation – used to great effect against Syracuse last week – is that it works.
And it works, primarily, because the Seminoles have an All-America-caliber running back who happened to be a pretty good prep quarterback while at Clinton High in Mississippi.
“Pretty good” might be underselling it. Akers’ collegiate career was always going to be spent at running back, and that’s where he’ll play professionally. But his high school passing numbers – 3,128 yards, 31 touchdowns and six interceptions as a senior – are too much to ignore.
They certainly were for Willie Taggart and Kendal Briles, who last week had Akers run 13 plays from the quarterback position in a 35-17 victory over Syracuse.
“Wildcat” plays typically give the acting quarterback the option to hand off or pitch to a running back, keep the ball and run it himself, or pull it back and throw. Akers completed two passes out of the “wildcat” for a total of 26 yards.
All told, the Akers-led “wildcat” – or maybe “WildCam” is more appropriate – accounted for 111 yards, two touchdowns and a two-point conversion.
So, yes, the Miami Hurricanes can expect a heavy dose of it when they visit Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday (watch the game live on ABC 27 at 3:30 p.m.).
“I think you will see more of it,” Taggart said. “Obviously, it worked.”
They had a feeling it might.
Akers took a handful of practice snaps at quarterback during fall camp, and every so often he’ll join the quarterbacks for a few minutes of their position drills.
But the Seminoles ramped up their efforts in the week leading up to Syracuse, with the knowledge that the “WildCam” wasn’t just something they’d do if given the right opportunity.
Against the Orange, it was going to be a key part of the game plan.
“We practiced it, we loved it and we got a lot of reps in it,” Akers said. “We felt very confident in running it and using it (against Syracuse).”
Florida State’s defense, then, was the first to feel the formation’s effects.
What might have been frustration during the week then led to elation on Saturday.
“It’s difficult no matter who we have back there,” FSU safety Hamsah Nasirildeen said. “But you all see how special ‘3’ (Akers) and ‘4’ (fellow running back Khalan Laborn) is. When you have guys like that back there, it is very dynamic and you really have to respect that. …
“When you have someone like Cam back there, it is definitely very difficult.”
No argument from Syracuse.
Between the “wildcat” snaps and FSU’s typical fast-paced offense, Akers ran for 144 yards and four touchdowns, while Laborn added a total of 94 yards and a score of his own.
When Akers lined up behind center, the Orange often had no choice but to play as if Akers would run the ball himself. Commit too much, though, and he’d give it to the more-than-capable Laborn.
On a few occasions, Akers faked a toss to Laborn then took advantage of a defenders’ hesitation to break through the line of scrimmage. Other times, with the defense sold out to stop the run, Laborn would slip into the flats for an easy completion.
According to Syracuse coach Dino Babers, the formation creates something of a numbers game. And if it’s run properly by talented players, the math simply doesn’t work out for opposing defenses.
“When you get into a ‘wildcat’ formation, basically (the offense has) 10 blockers,” Babers said. “Somebody (on defense) has got to fight off a blocker. Normally in that situation, instead of having to break tackles on three or four guys, (Akers) has only got to break tackles on one or two guys to have the type of runs that he has.
“When you’ve got a first-round draft pick and you’ve got 10 guys blocking, that is a really, really good formation. I would be very surprised if they don’t continue to use that throughout the year.”
What really sets Akers apart, though, is his ability to throw. Most backs can make basic passes over short distances, as Akers did last week.
But, although he hasn’t shown it yet this season, Akers can also scan downfield and throw the ball deep.
See his long pass to Nyqwan Murray at Boston College two years ago as an example:
“He throws the ball extremely well,” Briles said, “and we’ve seen it since I got here in January. He kind of messes around in practice. He can make any throws that he wants to make. And he’s accurate with the football and he makes good decisions.”
Added Babers: “He threw the ball a couple times from it as well, and no one expects that.”
Miami’s coaching staff has already heaped heavy praise on Akers – defensive coordinator Blake Baker called him “probably the best back we will see all year” – and the Hurricanes will have to spend time this week preparing for any number of “wildcat” plays that might come their way.
The Seminoles, of course, are just fine with that.
Especially since they don’t intend to roll out the exact same plays and concepts that they did against Syracuse.
“We’ll keep expanding that,” Briles said.