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How Malik Cunnigham Can Make the Stallions Unstoppable in Short Yardage

Yesterday, several high-profile quarterbacks were taken in the 2023 USFL College Draft. Arguably, the most fascinating one was Malik Cunningham of Louisville, who proved to be one of the greatest dual threats in not only Louisville and ACC history, but college football history. Cunningham passed for 9660 yards and 70 touchdowns while adding 3129 rushing yards and 50 touchdowns. Against Duke in 2021, Cunningham joined Marques Tuiasosopo as the only quarterbacks to throw for 300 yards and run for 200 yards in a game.

The Birmingham Stallions drafted Malik Cunningham in an attempt to increase their quarterback depth behind J’Mar Smith. Both quarterbacks offer similar skill sets so the move creates interchangeability should Smith go down with an injury. However, Cunningham is too good to just warm the bench. Cunningham can become quite the chess piece in short-yardage situations for Birmingham.

How Malik Cunnigham Can Make the Stallions Unstoppable in Short Yardage

Remember this formation? The Stallions’ short-yardage T-Formation was nearly unstoppable and became an iconic part of the USFL’s opening season when Birmingham used the formation to run a game-clinching QB sneak in the South Division Playoff. While effective, the formation lacked variation. This is where Malik Cunningham comes in.

 

I dug up some 1958 film on Army’s 9-0-1 team. That also ran the T-Formation, but it was more than just a powerful run game as Army used motion and trick plays to their advantage. First, let’s look at how Cunningham can be used as a decoy. Army used a lateral pre-snap motion to create confusion on several plays.1958 Heisman Trophy winner Pete Dawkins would often motion out of the backfield to open holes for 1957 All-American Halfback Bob Anderson. Here is an example below:

With an open-field threat like Cunningham causing disruption, sending him in motion will clear the box of an edge player making an off-tackle play with Bo Scarborough more effective. The Stallions do not even have to motion Cunningham out to use him effectively. Last year, the Stallions’ T-formation package lacked outside run plays like sweeps. Adding a sweep with Cunningham will only make the inside runs with Scarborough and Bobby Holly more effective. 

The Stallions can work a halfback pass into the mix with Cunningham to truly diversify their short-yardage package. Army rode the halfback pass out of the T and Wing-T Formations to perfection in 1958. All-American and College Football Hall of Famer, Bob Anderson completed 10-15 passes for 143 passing yards and four touchdowns while Pete Dawkins averaged 30.9 yards per catch on 16 catches with six touchdowns.

Below is a diagram from Sports Illustrated before Army capped off its undefeated 1958 season against Navy. The Stallions can employ a similar concept with its tight ends and even run an opposite-field pass to J’Mar Smith. 

How Malik Cunnigham Can Make the Stallions Unstoppable in Short Yardage
(Image Courtesy of Forwhattheygave.com)

Here is Pete Dawkins throwing the ball to Bob Anderson for a two-point conversion against Navy that same year: 

The Stallions loaded up on weapons during the Collegiate Draft. Malik Cunningham can become one of the league’s more interesting players as he has the opportunity to make the Birmingham Stallions the biggest short-yardage juggernaut in the league. As if South defenses did not have enough to worry about for the Stallions they have to bring their A-game in short-yardage.

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