More on the “Pistol” offense

Although I don’t consider the “pistol offense,” as pioneered by Chris Ault at Nevada, so much an offense as merely a useful formation which adapts well to a variety of schemes, there’s no doubt that Ault has had outsized success with it. Last season, Nevada averaged a staggering 344 yards rushing per game, on an even more staggering 7.39 yards per carry. Now, the offense took several games to get going (and against the meatiest part of Nevada’s schedule, no less), but it’s clear that the concept is here to stay and that it can be the foundation for an explosive attack.

Indeed, the pistol has been adopted by other teams as well, as this video from the Big Ten Network discussing Indiana’s use demonstrates (h/t Shakin the Southland):

Shakin the Southland buttresses this video with a lengthy discourse on the subject, drawing on some of my past work and a great American Football Monthly piece by Mike Kuchar. See parts one and two of Mike’s breakdown.

As I’ve said before, however, whether the pistol is a “system” or a “formation” is secondary to the results, and when it works

When the offense is rolling (which it is most of the time these days), the pistol gives a team the best of both worlds: It has at its disposal all the Urban Meyer/Rich Rodriguez spread offense stuff, like the zone read and other gadgets, as well as the advantages of a “traditional” I-formation or pro-style single-back attack. Among these are that the runningback, aligning as he does behind the quarterback, tips no hand to the defense on the direction of the play, and the offense can get both good downhill running and play-action off those looks.

The test of the pistol will be, as it is for all offenses, along two vectors: First, will Nevada break through? But second, what will its ongoing influence be? Regardless of how this season turns out for the Wolfpack, I think the “pistol’s” legacy is safe.

As a bonus, below the jump I’ve got a video of one of my favorite Nevada plays, the “horn play.”

  • It also looks like UCLA is going to use the Pistol too ( It’ll be interesting to see how it works for them in the Pac 10.

  • Cromulent

    I’m not so sure the Pistol doesn’t have some predictable run tendencies. The RB does not line up directly behind the QB. He shifts just a little, presumably to better hear(or see?) the QB’s signals.

    In both the horn play video and the Hoosier video the RB lines up just a smidgen to the left of the QB’s helmet. I think it is *highly* unlikely that if a zone read was called that the left DE would be the target. And the zone wouldn’t be the only play with a tendency.

    Just a wild-assed guess.

  • TShig

    I believe it looks like the guy is offset slightly because of the camera angle. The RB is suppose to be right behind the QB, and it looks to me like they are in both clips.

  • DrB

    Personally I love this set, compared to the normal shotgun set. I just prefer the more downhill-based running.

    One of the things that always ticked us off when Rich Rodriguez left was that we had ran the same plays and yet teams had adjusted and sometimes the RB would have no momentum hitting the crease that was open.

  • bigreds1989

    I like how my old high school uses the “pistol” They run all their flexbone veer stuff out of it and call it the “ski gun”.

  • Cromulent

    1) No, I’ve looked at plenty of live Nevada action with different camera angles. The RB is slightly offset. Its not much. Maybe 18 inches, or even less. Sometimes you can even see the back moving his head while the QB is signalling.

    2) I took another look at the ski gun last week. Is it me or do the slot backs have to line up a little further off the line? Plus I wonder how the increased distance and different angle they have to run when swinging behind the B back affects their performance later in the play vis a vis the traditional flexbone.

  • dazz

    If the Pistol Offense doesn’t exist as such, the “Nevada Offense” clearly does.

    Though I live thousands of miles away and have no particular WAC interest, I’m already looking forward to Nevada – Boise State game for schematic reasons. I’m hoping it’ll be a closer game than last years.

    There are some good threads elsewhere on some of the (minor?) disadvantages of running zone read out of *a* pistol formation (not *the* pistol formation as Nevada runs probably a half dozen or more pistol formations with different combinations of tight ends, wide recievers, and sometimes even an H back) but the advantages of being able to run typical I formation plays like inside zone, iso/blast, strech, counter, and others seem significant.

  • Daniel Tyler

    “I like how my old high school uses the “pistol” They run all their flexbone veer stuff out of it and call it the “ski gun”.”

    I would love to see a college offense run the triple option out of the pistol

  • NashT

    The actual alignment of the RB is debatable but in Nevada’s Championship Production videos Klenakis is pretty adamant about aligning the RB directly behind the QB to hide him for the first few steps/screw with back reading teams.

    It should also be interesting to see if Arkansas does anything pistol related with Klenakis now on staff.

  • SteveM

    The plan is to use the the pistol the majority of the time. That’s why they got Coach K. I don’t think it will be very helpful this season, though. Kaepernick makes the offense more effective by providing another potential ball carrier on every snap. Mallett doesn’t do that for Arkansas. I think they’re planning for the future with Wilson and Mitchell.

  • Ike

    Alabama had a LOT of success with the Pistol last year. It plays very well with McElroy’s ability to read defenses and check into a better play.

    (It also helps when the guys running the ball are named Ingram and Richardson, and both excel at downhill running.)

  • Co-ach

    A LOT of teams are starting to incorporate the look into their offense.

    Jimbo Fisher has been using it sparingly since he’s been at FSU

  • K

    So overall, the biggest reason to run the pistol is to help the passing game right? That, and if you have a good runner as a QB. Otherwise…just stay under center. I know there are other small things, but overall that is the idea isn’t it?

  • Mr.Murder

    By the time that back fakes there are not a lot of locations to choose from for the passer launch point. It doesn’t appear to be read often because the back is coming down on snap and meshes quickly.

    The slight offset is for seeing the snap and signals. The back still has to be part of protections and that may still be the greatest weakness for the formation. Wide hashmark placements probably favor this formation more?

  • Austin

    I’m from michigan and recently attended a Detroit Lions practice. The Lions almost were exclusively running out of pistol formations the whole practice, i was pleased to see that the NFL is starting to realize that the pistol is not just some college fad.

  • dazz

    “K says:
    August 8, 2010 at 9:22 am
    So overall, the biggest reason to run the pistol is to help the passing game right? That, and if you have a good runner as a QB. Otherwise…just stay under center. I know there are other small things, but overall that is the idea isn’t it?”

    Well, you’re not going to run the modern zone read under center. You could run traditional veer plays instead though.

    Plus I imagine its a nice recruiting tool to say you have a unique offense that lead the nation in rushing.

  • John M

    What about play action out of the pistol? I’ve noticed when FSU runs it, there never seems to be much pressure and the QB is usually throwing from about 10 yards back. Is this an advantage?

  • Travis

    I live in Reno and I watch their games, they have several pistol builds. Theres a build with 3 TEs and 2 RBs. They ran a 1 WR, 2 TE, and 2 RB several times last game. Kaepernick always does a play action on bootlegs and his passes.

  • Arline Handkins

    All certainly true, but I don’t take that view myself. I will stay the more regular view. But I without doubt support your right to have your own point of view. Fascinating anyway. Bob Perry, Work New York, 65 Chambers Street, New York, NY 10007

  • Shirginda

    Fantastic info. I’ve bookmarked this internet site.

  • Dkeil

    yes.. im a7th grade coach in northern mich ..we will be using some pistol this year..i love it

  • Harold

    What is the pistol ?

  • Pingback: Game 4 Take a Break or Zeeland West at Muskegon Mona Shores | God Bless You Mr. Roosevelt()