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Football: Pistol perfect

Matthew DeFranks | Tuesday, September 3, 2013

During Saturday’s 28-6 win over Temple, No. 14 Notre Dame debuted a few members of its prized freshman class, junior Ishaq Williams at defensive end and perhaps most interestingly, a new formation – the pistol.

Irish coach Brian Kelly’s offense has primarily been a shotgun-orientated attack, with the quarterback five yards behind the center and the running back at his side. In the pistol formation, the quarterback takes the snap slightly closer to the line of scrimmage and the running back is positioned behind him.

“We just think it’s another piece that we can use to get some downhill runs,” Kelly said last Tuesday in his weekly press conference. “I don’t think we’ve turned into a pistol offense. We’re still a shotgun offense that will operate similar to what we have in the past.”

With senior quarterback Tommy Rees in the game against the Owls (0-1), the Irish offense ran 26 plays out of the pistol, racking up 263 yards (10.1 yards per play). Notre Dame (1-0) had four plays of more than 25 yards in the pistol and scored two touchdowns out of the formation.

By comparison, Notre Dame gained 188 yards on 23 plays out of its familiar shotgun formation. The lone play of more than 25 yards was junior tight end Troy Niklas’ 66-yard rumble for a score in the second quarter.

Rees was only under center for two plays in the season-opening victory.

After the game, Kelly said the Irish ran the ball effectively out of the pistol.

“I think there is more to come,” he said. “I think we only showed a little bit of it. There were a lot more pieces to it. Today was just a small segment of it.

“We didn’t obviously show a lot of our stuff today, which was our intention. We’re happy that we didn’t have to put our entire game plan out there for everybody to see. So that was a pretty good deal.”

Junior running back Amir Carlisle started the game for the Irish in the backfield and sprinted 45 yards down the right side on the first play from scrimmage out of the pistol.

“The pistol adds another dimension to our offensive attack,” Carlisle said. “It’s a downhill, hard-hitter and it’ll be a great weapon for us going forward this season.

“It forces you to stick your nose in it sometimes and just get as many yards as you can.”

Carlisle finished his first game in an Irish uniform with 68 yards on seven carries.

The running style of junior running back George Atkinson fit nicely with the principles of the pistol formation.

“He ran downhill very well in high school, and we felt like the pistol could fit him very well,” Kelly said. “Not just him, but we felt like it was something that could benefit us moving forward.”

Former Nevada coach Chris Ault conceived the offense in 2005 and further popularized the formation when he was coaching current San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick with the Wolf Pack from 2007 to 2010. Kelly said Ault spent a couple of days in South Bend this spring to consult with the Irish coaches about the formation.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu