Base Personnel: Quarterback and one Running Back
Additional Personnel: Three wide receivers and one tight end or two wide receivers and two tight ends
Suggested Players: Quincy Enunwa, Kenny Bell, Jamal Turner, Kyler Reed/Ben Cotton, Rex Burkhead/Ameer Abdullah
Unleashed in 2004, the Pistol formation is the brainchild of Chris Ault, head coach of the University of Nevada. With this formation as their primary set, the Wolfpack was the first school to record three 1,000 yard rushers in a single season with quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running backs Luke Lippincott and Vai Taua.
The formation features the quarterback three to four yards back from the center with the lone running back approximately three yards behind him.
The primary advantage of the Pistol is integrating power running into the spread. The quarterback is still out from under center allowing for a better overview of the defense.
As a result, he is able to make better reads and audibles. Unlike the typical spread where the running back is to the side of the quarterback, the placement behind the quarterback allows for more dynamic use of the back, allowing for more natural downhill running.
In the past few seasons, Nebraska has adopted the Pistol as a staple of their offensive playbook. Using a variety of sets, ranging from one with four wide receivers to another with two wide receivers and two tight ends, the Huskers have added a substantial number of plays that compliment not only personnel, but the type of offense Tim Beck has been seeking.
Utilizing Nebraska’s Pistol
The first set we’ll examine features two wide receivers and two tight ends. Three of the four are set to the wide side of the field to favor well-spaced routes and wide runs.
This particular set is great for pitches, sweeps, option runs, and off-tackle runs. At the same time, it doesn’t restrict an offense from passing as the wide receivers are likely spaced five to six yards apart.
With Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton, you can see how this set is as serviceable for passing plays as it is power running.
In terms of passing, this formation would be excellent for a type of play I believe Nebraska should utilize more: The bootleg or a naked bootleg. The difference being that in a bootleg play, Martinez would be accompanied by a blocker whereas on a naked bootleg, he would not.
In this set, Martinez would fake the handoff to his left and rollout to his right. For a quarterback as mobile as Martinez, the play would immediately set up well with a mostly open field ahead. The play can also add routes to place the wide receivers in Martinez’s throwing path.
The other play call I really like from this set is the option to the heavier side. With three blockers in the wide receivers, tight end and a pulling lineman, Nebraska could set up an option play extremely well.
In this set, the wide receivers are able to block the defenders in coverage while the pulling guard and tight end seal the linebackers. This leaves Martinez and Burkhead on the edge in a favorable pitching situation.
Confronted with the defensive end, Martinez makes the easy decision and Burkhead is able to advance into the second level where his receivers are already blocking.
The second set we examine is one Nebraska features frequently. In 54 offensive plays against Michigan last season, the Huskers operated out of this set 10 times despite some favorable passing situations with the zone read being Beck’s favorite play.
In this instance, the zone read is set to run to the weak side of the play. After reading the defensive end, Martinez keeps the ball and makes a move for an outside run. Once there, Enunwa has his block sealed and Martinez is able to cut behind him for a ten yard gain.
Tim Beck has tweaked the Pistol into a very favorable passing formation for Nebraska. You can expect the Huskers to continue to use this formation in a variety of ways and on a regular basis this fall.