What started as a quirky twist on the shotgun formation by an off-the-radar team searching for an edge has become the hottest offensive trend in college football.
It’s called the pistol, and if you haven’t seen it, well, you’re probably not paying close enough attention.
Invented in Nevada, the short shotgun setup _ hence pistol _ that places the quarterback about 4 yards behind center and a running back 3 yards behind the QB is now being used in varying amounts at Alabama, Arkansas, Duke, Indiana, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and UCLA, just to name a few.
The Bruins have gone all in on the pistol, and last week they used it to whip Texas 34-12.
“It’s expanded the offensive landscape,” said Nevada coach Chris Ault, the pistol’s founding father.
No team’s pistol is more potent than the Wolf Pack’s. Ault’s team has put up dizzying numbers, averaging more than 500 yards and 37 points the previous two seasons, running a spread-option offense from the pistol. This year, with senior quarterback Colin Kaepernick pulling the trigger in Reno, Nevada is on the cusp of a breakthrough season.
The Wolf Pack is 4-0 for the first time since it moved into Division I-A in 1992, and at No. 25, is ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 1948. That includes victories at home against California and at BYU.
And the pistol is pumping better than ever. Nevada is fourth in the nation in total offense, averaging 529 yards, and is the fifth highest scoring team in the country at 45 points per game.
Vai Taua is the Western Athletic Conference’s leading rusher at 113.3 yards per game and Kaepernick is second at 112.8. The 6-foot-6 quarterback has improved as a passer, throwing for 924 yards to complement the Wolf Pack’s deceptive and explosive running game.
Ault’s brainchild has come a long way from the winter of 2005, when the coach who had built a Hall of Fame career on a pass-happy offense dubbed ‘Air Wolf’ decided he needed to come up with a better way to run the ball.
From the shotgun, Ault’s preferred way of lining up, backs did too much running from side to side instead of moving straight forward and hitting the line of scrimmage with a head of steam.
So Ault decided to move the quarterback up a few yards and placed a tailback behind him, sort of combining an I formation and a spread.
“When I brought it to my staff they all looked cross-eyed at me,” Ault said with a laugh in a recent telephone interview.
Ault and his staff drew up the offense, then installed it during spring practice.
“There were some ugly days,” he said.