Notre Dame vs. Nevada Preview: The Pistol Offense Invades South Bend

Jon CavanaughContributor ISeptember 4, 2009

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 20: women fans of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish dress in green paint cheer during the game against the University of Southern California Trojans at Notre Dame Stadium October 20, 2007 in South Bend, Indiana. USC defeated Notre Dame 38-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Much has been made of Notre Dame’s supposedly easier schedule but the Irish won’t get a break in their season opener.  Notre Dame’s high expectations will be tested right out of the gates against a tough Nevada squad.  

Nevada ranked No. 5 in total offense last year and figures to be just as explosive and dangerous this time around.  

Nevada’s fifth-ranked juggernaut utilized the fairly new and innovative pistol formation.  The pistol offense is similar to the shotgun spread attack.  Instead of dropping all the way back, the quarterback lines up three yards behind center with the running back directly behind him.

The pistol is a zone based power running scheme best utilized with a duel threat quarterback, the running game sets up the passing game.  Since the running back is directly behind the QB, it can be confusing to defenses to figure out which way the back is going.  

This obviously creates a perfect situation for the play-action pass.  Nevada’s rushing attack ranked No. 3 nationally but they were no slouch in tossing the ball around either, ranking No. 47 with 3,000 yards.

Nevada is well versed in the pistol formation as head coach Chris Ault invented it and started using it in 2004.  

Ault is also an active member of the College Football Hall of Fame—he was inducted in 2002—and the Nevada players will pay a visit to the Hall on Friday before the game.

The game also features one of the better quarterback duels of the entire season.  Even fans with no interest in the game should tune in just to see the offensive fireworks that will be on display in South Bend.  

Everyone knows about Jimmy Clausen but a lot of folks will discover another one of college football’s elite QB’s in Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick.  

Kaepernick doesn’t come with the hype or pedigree that Clausen does—he had just one division I scholarship offer—but has been more productive than his more hyped counterpart.  

Kaepernick stands 6-6 and weighs 215 pounds and was known more for baseball in high school, he throws a 94 mph fastball and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs this year.  Lucky for us CFB diehards, Colin chose to play football instead. 

Kaepernick models his game on another tantalizing duel threat QB--Vince Young--and the comparison is accurate.  Last year he became only the fifth player in FBS history to throw for more than 2,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 in the same season, putting him in that exclusive club with Vince Young.

His 2,849 yards passing and 1,130 rushing yards with 17 TD’s was better than Tim Tebow last year.  Yes that’s right, better than Tim Tebow.  

Though Kaepernick was more productive, Jimmy Clausen was no slouch last year either.  Clausen, behind a much improved offensive line, threw for 3,172 yards with 25 touchdowns against 17 INT’s.  

Notre Dame is loaded with top ranked talent on both sides of the ball but especially on offense.  The Irish have the talent to become a top five offense if they can protect Clausen and establish a running game.

The offensive line must improve if ND is to fulfill its potential.  The running game does not suffer from a lack of talent, it’s suffers from an under achieving offensive line.  

While Notre Dame’s passing attack ranked 34th, the rushing game ranked a despicable 101st.  

The Irish will have a experienced line to improve on with all starters returning.  Paul Duncan who missed the '08 campaign due to injury will also be available this year.  

In 2007, Notre Dame ranked dead last in the FBS with a whopping 4.83 sacks allowed per game.  They improved dramatically last season and finished ranked 51st.  

They will need to protect Clausen as Nevada features a pair of pass rushing daemons in DE’s Kevin Basped and Dontay mock who combined for 21-and-a-half sacks and 14-and-a-half tackles for a loss last season.  

Despite the potent pass rush, Nevada ranked near the bottom of the barrel defensively last year.  They ranked an abysmal 91st overall and dead last in passing defense.

Notre Dame finished a respectable No. 39 in total defense last year and figure to be much stronger this time around.  No. 39 would be a failure to a lot of college football”s elite teams but they ranked 65th just two years ago.  

To thwart a pistol whipping, I expect the Irish to bring the heat with a multitude of different blitz packages.  John Tenuta has been brought in as co-defensive coordinator and was known through his career and most recently at Georgia Tech, as a defensive mastermind who blitzed often and unpredictably. 

The Irish are glad to have Tenuta on their side this year.  In 2007 Tenuta’s Georgia Tech squad sacked ND’s quarterbacks nine times.  Heralded freshman Manti Te’o is tailor made for this type of defense.  

This game should be a gem and must-see-TV for College Football's opening weekend.  Both schools finished 7-6 last year with bowl appearances.  

Both schools feature junior quarterbacks on the Maxwell award preseason watch list.

Both programs feature high profile coaches.  Charlie Weis earned reputation in pro football and Nevada’s Chris Ault was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002.  

Nevada doesn't get to play on national TV very often and great showing or win will give them the kind of exposure the program needs and deserves.  If they are not hyped up enough to be on national TV, they are playing at Notre Dame and everyone gets hyped up to come to South Bend.  

Notre Dame has the added burden of high expectations.  A struggle or loss to Nevada would be devastating to the Irish and especially coach Charlie Weis.  The critics will have a field day and will dig in and stay for a very, very long time.

My prediction:  Notre Dame 34, Nevada 31


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