13 August 2008

The Pistol Formation: Is Tressel Packing Heat?

[Editor's Note: For those of you who've earnestly logged on the past several days only to find the stale fragments of last week's words, we apologize. We're thrilled to announce that (like the mythical Phoenix) The Rivalry, Esq. will soon be undergoing an ambitious transformation in scope and platform. We'll have more details in the near future. Stay tuned.]

You've got to give it to him, he looks the part.

When the Big Ten Network visited Columbus last week as part of its fall camp circus tour it caught Offensive Line Coordinator Jim Bollman sporting a high-crowned Cowboy hat,
rim pulled down over his eyes a la Butch Cassidy. Like any professional outlaw, the gunslinger didn't want to show his hand. Fortunately, the tape doesn't lie.

What it's shown has sparked debate from The Plain Dealer to Around the Oval. The Buckeye offense appears to be flirting with the Pistol Formation, an offspring of the shotgun and singleback offenses. Pioneered by Chris Ault for his Nevada Wolf Pack the Pistol gives ground gunpowder to an attack while maintaining the vertical extendability of the shotgun. It works like this:

The quarterback lines up approximately three yards behind the center (compared to at least five in the shotgun). The shallow set allows the running back to position himself an additional three yards behind the quarterback like in the I-Form. At direct snap the quarterback can do one of three things: 1. Hand the ball off to a running back that's already in motion, 2. Look up to pass, or 3. Execute the "option" in tandem with the running back. (For a graphical illustration, see Men of the Scarlet and Gray).

"Bollman's not planning on firing blanks."

The obvious suitability of the formation for a Buckeye Offense that arguably boasts more turf torque than any other club in the FBS has been well documented. Ideas I can't take credit for include:

1. Freezing the linebacker corps
for an extra second after the snap while they wait to get a visual on the back -- until they see Beanie, they can't commit to run or pass (MotSaG)

2. Speaking of No. 28, giving the bruiser more momentum at conception since the back is already running downhill at the time he takes the hand off -- compare that to the traditional shotgun lateral transfer (The Plain Dealer)

3. The general threat of a Pryor/Wells Pistol option -- from a defensive perspective you're damned if you do, damned if you don't

4. Allowing the offensive line to play soft up front, and

5. North/South diversification provides greater opportunities to run and throw the football
-- the quarterback has the visibility of the Shotgun with the versatility of the I-Form (Around the Oval).

Even Tressel himself has sung its praises: "Your back now has the ability to go both ways as opposed to being offset one way or the other," he said, before
adding, "...28 gets to go downhill, and I think he's a pretty good downhill guy."

Sold? It seems like a no brainer -- which immediately makes this blogger skeptical. So, in the spirit of our taking sides approach, lets turn to the aspects that have received considerably less airtime: the conventional weaknesses of the Pistol.

First, quarterbacks under center can conceal the ball significantly better than at drop. The further away the quarterback is from the line, the easier it is for the defense to see what's going on. By this reasoning a linebacker that follows a QB's arm movements might mitigate the lauded "freezing" effect.

Second, while limiting a defense's field of view is important, running backs need to see too (huge surprise, right?). A lineup directly behind the quarterback keeps prospective lanes concealed until the back is all but committed (See All Experts). Don't buy it? Beanie Wells was candid about his difficulties adjusting. As he reported "It's hard. It takes getting used to."

Whether you like the Pistol or not likely depends on who you've seen run it. Good timing and execution? See LSU. Poor adaptability? See Syracuse.

One thing is certainly clear: Bollman's not planning on firing blanks.

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