According to reports out of Notre Dame's fall camp, Brian Kelly's offense will run the pistol formation this season.
ESPN's Matt Fortuna reported on his reader mail blog that he had only seen the players actually run the pistol once but had heard the players talking about it "here and there."
During a press conference Fortuna attended, Kelly was asked about comments made by DaVaris Daniels that the Irish were intending to incorporate the formation in 2013. The Irish head coach—in classic Kelly style—responded, "Daniels doesn't know what the hell he’s talking about," indicating he did not wish to reveal any additions to his offensive playbook just yet.
Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune reported observing more widespread use of the formation, writing, "the offense ran it extensively with quarterback Tommy Rees, tailback George Atkinson III and the first-unit offensive line."
The pistol would bring much needed change to Kelly's spread offense. As I stated in my previous article about power rushing, Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin have the O-line muscle to tighten up the line and run power plays.
In the traditional pistol, the quarterback is close enough to the line of scrimmage to be able to read the defense, as with rush formations such as the I. The handoff occurs two to three yards closer to the line of scrimmage than the more widely used shotgun.
The pistol also gives the option of playing man-to-man coverage—as opposed to zone—enabling offensive linemen to focus on opening holes for the backs to penetrate and is conducive to the all-important power rush.
Here are the guys from Behind the Schemes explaining the pistol:
The pistol in its current incarnation was popularized by Nevada head coach Chris Ault. In 2009 Nevada used a pistol driven offense—helmed by current San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick—to lead the nation in rushing at 345 yards per game. The Wolf Pack also became the first team in college football history with three 1,000-yard rushers in the same season.
As you can see from the numbers above, the pistol formation has great potential for the Fighting Irish. One issue Kelly will need to address is that the pistol—historically speaking—has been most successful when run by a dual-threat quarterback such as Kaepernick.
If the offense is to run the pistol as Hamilton observed with George Atkinson III as the primary rusher, he will need to maximize his potential as a power back. At 6'1", 220 pounds, Atkinson has the build to run with power but will need to get more comfortable rushing through coverage.
The inclusion of the pistol will benefit the Fighting Irish by enabling Rees to read defenses better, setting up the power rush and signifies the offense moving away from an underdog play-style of the spread and into the powerhouse Kelly will need if he wants to bring the crystal football to South Bend.