Mike Leach: Pistol offense maven?

Mike Leach, now head coach at Washington State, has gone out and hired someone with a little pistol offense pedigree:

One interesting note from the hiring and firing that occupies college football fans for the better part of the holiday season is the hiring of former Nevada and UCLA assistant Jim Mastro by Washington State. Mastro is schooled in the pistol offense, a run-first attack known for cranking out 1,000 yard rushers with regularity. It seems incompatible with Leach’s pass-friendly Air Raid scheme, but it may not be as inharmonious a match as you might think.

Leach protege Dana Holgorsen has worked with integrating the pistol formation and other variants of the scheme into his sets at West Virginia and Oklahoma State. In order to keep his attack fresh and unpredictable in his return to coaching, Leach may be looking to do the same thing by going straight to one of the attack’s sources. It’s a fun tweak, but don’t worry, Cougar fans: Leach will still throw the daylights out of the ball, and then probably pass some more even after he’s all out of daylights, so to speak.

I think this is right: Don’t expect Leach to junk his Airraid anytime soon, though you may see more pistol. What’s interesting is that Leach has talked about the importance of the pistol, contrasting it with, say, the wildcat, which he didn’t think is a lasting change. Instead the pistol, says Leach, will have staying power as it “changes the angles” in the running game. You can see this in the clip below:

Of course, as I’ve said many times, the “pistol” does not mean one thing: it’s an alignment by a runningback but it can also refer to a specific offensive scheme, most notably associated with Nevada under Chris Ault. Holgorsen tends to use the pistol simply as an alignment, one that doesn’t give away which direction the runner is going but otherwise it’s not that different from traditional sets. Nevada, by contrast, uses it to run a lot of read or option schemes, meshing them with downhill run schemes. I don’t expect Leach to go this direction.

But there is an analogue. At Texas Tech, Leach needed to engineer a bit more of a run game, and he did that using some “triple shoot” concepts involving a jet sweep and inside runs as a counter off of the jet sweep action. How Leach integrates this into his vaunted Airraid offense.

  • Objesguy44

    I think you’re dead on here. I don’t think that because Leach is bringing in a guy with a “Chris Ault Pistol” pedigree is suddenly going to be running the ball 60 percent of the time like say, Nevada does. The pistol is a very adaptable formation, as evidenced by what you pointed out with Holgorsen at WVU. Some other examples have been Charlie Weis at Florida and most notably, Nick Rolovich, the O-Coordinator at Hawaii who installed the pistol into their run and shoot a season ago. Though Hawaii may have looked like Nevada when they were in formation, they were anything but, as Moniz threw for over 5,0000 yards and had 39 touchdowns in 2010 (a bit of a dropoff in 2011, but injuries, lack of receivers and the loss of Alex Green, who ran for 1,163 and averaged 7.97 yards per rush, hurt them a lot).

    I am guessing Leach wants to go to the pistol to make things a little easier on the running game. One coach (Hemlock) on Coach Huey remarked that was the biggest difference for Hawaii last year (moving to the pistol), because it opened up the running attack while not changing their identity as a run and shoot team. That could be possible for Leach and his Cougs in 2012 (open up their run game while still maintaining their identity as an Airraid team).

  • Anonymous

    I think that’s right. Mumme’s running game literally consisted of a one-back draw and a lead-draw to be used only after the passing game was going great, and to an extent Leach was of the same mind. He did install more of a zone concept (which was really a man scheme anyway because of the enormous splits) and I think the pistol stuff is just a way to have an effective and slightly more advanced run game than just a draw every now and then.

  • xavmcd

    Holgorsen really buttered his bread with that jet sweep look to Tavon Austin where Geno Smith got the snap and did the half-shovel/touch pass to Tavon. Then they could decoy the jet sweep and pass downfield at times. I really think you could evolve that to include a second run option or even a QB draw if you have the right QB.

  • Austin

    Dykes and Franklin have used it some. The article isn’t available anymore, but there was a piece last year about using it (the alignment) to better make use of a more north/south RB on the roster (who ironically left Tennessee and would have fit perfectly in the offense Dooley ran at Tech).


  • Guest

    I am concerned with how the position of the running back in the pistol affects its ability to function in concepts with running back involved, such as Stick out of 2×2. Does anyone know if that is an issue?

  • Buck Pierce

    I think Leach will use the pistol set similar to how teams in the CFL do.  Over the past 3 years, pistol formations have become common place in the CFL which is a very pass dominant league (3 downs).  CFL teams are doing some really innovative things from the pistol. 

    Also, Leach now has the CFL Grey Cup champions just across the border from him….I wonder if he’ll bounce ideas off them or vice versa.

  • Steve M.

    Arkansas used the pistol throughout the season.  It’s difficult to evaluate how its implementation might have changed their offensive effectiveness from last year because Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson are very different quarterbacks.  They also had a different running back with a completely different style.
    Here is some game footage that contains several plays with Arkansas using the pistol for both runs and passes:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tgbi0EwSiSM

  • Njdilonardo

    Speaking of interesting assistant coach hires: UCLA’s Mora just snagged Noel Mazzone, and SMU’s O-Line coach. Could be a very interesting system

  • Seth Drennan

    I talked to Coach Mastro after the Lone Star Clinic in College Station, TX. As you guys know, Nevada used a TE heavily. They also went with 2 TE’s a lot versus certain fronts. 

    I asked Coach Mastro if Leach was going to let him use a TE. He said, “Definitely. That they will definitely use a TE and he was confident that their running game would be as similar to Nevada as can be.” It will be interesting to see where they land as a rushing team. 

    This guy will be DVR’ing every WSU game I can.