By far one of Carolina's biggest failings in the loss to Kentucky was the Gamecocks' defense's utter inability to stop Kentucky's wildcat packages. Carolina actually had success early on against the 'Cats' base Air Raid offense, but when Kentucky began mixing in direct snaps to the tailbacks out of the wildcat, the 'Cats were able to move the ball with ease.
Before we take a closer look at why Carolina struggled to defend the wildcat, a short synopsis on the offense. Although often perceived as a gimmick formation, the wildcat is actually a modern incarnation of the old single-wing. In it, the QB splits wide or is taken off the field altogether and a tailback or receiver takes the snap. Plays out of this formation oftentimes include a receiver going in motion across the formation prior to the snap. In this standard approach, the player taking the snap can read the defense and either keep the ball himself, hand off to a player running in motion for a sweep play, or sometimes throw the ball. The offensive line utilizes zone blocking (here's a good general breakdown on the zone-blocking concept) to create movement along the defensive line. If the player taking the snap keeps the ball, he picks his hole much like a tailback would running behind a zone-blocking scheme. There are a variety of formational variations including non-spread jumbo looks with h-backs to help block. The wildcat can also include extra backs lining up beside the player taking the snap, such as when Carolina has had Damiere Byrd line up beside Pharoh Cooper. These variations provide other options for the offense.
Let's now take a look at Carolina's struggles against UK. The play here is Braylon Heard's long TD run in the second quarter.
Kentucky is lined up in one of those jumbo packages I mentioned, with a couple of h-backs lined up along with Heard to help block.
Optimal defense of the wildcat first of all requires the defensive line to maintain its gaps. If the offensive line creates a lot of movement, that gives a good runner like Heard holes to work with. The first thing you see on this play is that Carolina freshman DT Taylor Stallworth (90) gets blown way off his gap. Heard hits the hole left in his place. Carolina DE Mason Harris (34) is also getting pushed around pretty badly on this play, keeping him from being able to effect the play.
Linebacker play is also poor here. Skai Moore (10) appears to be being held, which makes his lack of an effect on the play excusable, but Marquis Roberts (21) should have been able to make this play. Roberts seems to be trying to plug the gap to the left of where Stallworth is initially lined up, perhaps anticipating that Heard will hit the vacated gap. That's wise of him, but Heard comes a little more inside than Roberts anticipates, and Roberts doesn't adjust quickly enough to make a hit.
Last but not least, safety D.J. Smith (24) commits a rookie mistake and gets caught way outside when Heard makes his way up the middle of the field. Smith is playing pass on the outside, and particularly because T.J. Gurley (20) is playing up close to the line of scrimmage, Smith has to recognize run more quickly and get back to the middle of the field as soon as it's apparent the ball isn't going to the edge. He's the only guy available to make a play on the third level. Without Smith in place to effect the play, Heard is able to trot into the end zone with ease.
So, what went wrong on this play? Basically, everything. The Gamecocks front, linebackers, and secondary made fatal errors. It thus shouldn't be a surprise that the Gamecocks defense struggled so mightily against the wildcat. Let's hope Carolina's get the guys coached up to stop this package, because we'll be seeing it again.