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Pistol formation paying early dividends

Sep 3, 2013, 11:57 AM EDT

Amir Carlisle, Tommy Rees AP

After doing his best to keep the formation out of the limelight, Notre Dame opened up in the pistol formation, putting to bed Brian Kelly‘s worst kept secret of the offseason. On the Irish’s first play from scrimmage on the season, Tommy Rees started in the short shotgun and running back Amir Carlisle lined up behind him. Rees spotted a Temple outside linebacker show blitz early and ran the ball right inside of him, bursting Carlisle through a wide open seam and 45-yards later the Irish offense was off and running.

On the day, the Irish used the Pistol formation to both run and throw with playaction, an effective wrinkle added to the offense after an offseason visit from former Nevada coach Chris Ault. The Irish were hardly alone in the use of the formation, with the opening weekend of college football showcasing a formation that was only at the outskirts of the game just a few seasons ago.

While rewatching the game yesterday, I started to chart the plays the Irish ran out of the formation, only to see that the smart guys at The Observer beat me to it. Here’s their quick analysis of the Irish’s use of the formation:

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.

Running the ball out of the pistol seems to have gotten the most attention, with guys like George Atkinson and Amir Carlisle talking about the ability to run “downhill” out of the formation. But Rees’ ability to utilize playaction, where the senior quarterback was excellent with his ball fakes on Saturday, is an added bonus, and something that fits the quarterback’s skillset well.

Expect the Irish offense to evolve quite a bit in the coming week, with the jet sweep likely coming out of the short motion game, in addition to some other looks saved just for Michigan.

“I think we only showed a little bit of it,” Kelly said after the game. “There were a lot more pieces to it. Today was just a small segment of it.”


  1. nudeman - Sep 3, 2013 at 12:24 PM

    As best as I can tell, the way ND runs the Pistol, the only benefit is that the RB lines up right behind the QB, thus taking away any hint of what side they’re running to. Can someone who has a little better understanding confirm that?

    It’s hard for me as a lay observer to see why this makes so much difference.Teams I see run it effectively are those who also incorporate the read/option (Kaepernick and the 49ers), and I don’t think we’re going to see that with Tommy at QB. Is it possible that this is a one game anomaly?

    Bottom line: I am not totally convinced that ND’s use of the pistol is all that responsible for the big numbers Saturday. If we see the same delta vs. UM, I’ll have to reconsider.

    • dickasman - Sep 3, 2013 at 1:09 PM

      Yeah, I thought pistol looked rather rusty, not as smooth as other teams that I’ve seen it run but it’s a new wrinkle on the butt, can’t complain.

      I can see the cheater running this as smooth as baby’s butt though if he comes back

    • irishpuma - Sep 3, 2013 at 3:17 PM

      NUDIE I agree. I think it may help TR’s epic reads…just kiddin…I think the RB advantage is that it puts him closer to the line so he is getting a jump start than from the I formation and he gets to read the action and go. But I am novice when it comes to the pistol. I think if you have a mobile read option QB it is a big plus!

      I was more interested that we were only under center two times. Seems weird. I think we are going to need to run the ball early and often to beat UM.

      I concur with nude as I am not seeing a cause and effect situation from the pistol. I think the big plays were attributed to us playing Temple. Period. Either way I will take it I just want to win baby!

    • lambda02750 - Sep 3, 2013 at 5:31 PM

      Nude…I agree with you! I have been watching football for a long time but am not extremely well versed with all of the plays, formations, etc. In reading through the comments, no one really cleared up the issue. What is it about the pistol formation that serves any better purpose than the spread, run/shoot, etc. I know the RB lines up in a different spot and is a little closer to the line of scrimmage, but that’s not always necessarily a plus because you are also closer to rushing linemen and backers. I do understand that the RB can get reads on the defense from behind the QB, but what can he see from there that he can’t see from his side, or from a traditional I-formation placement? Trust me, I have no qualms with the new offensive look, but I still have yet to find someone that can lay out the differences between the pistol and what they used to run. I feel that there must be more the the advantages than just enabling RB’s to read the defense and being closer to the line of scrimmage. Thoughts, stories, Madden drawings, anything from anyone?!?!

    • don74 - Sep 3, 2013 at 5:47 PM

      Must be a pad level thing. :)

    • 1notredamefan - Sep 3, 2013 at 6:23 PM

      Well If your lined p 3 -4 yrds behind the man giving you the ball (Tommy) your already able to get that first few steps and also read yourself while in motion, instead of tommy going in their direction and the rb going from pretty much a stand still to full speed by the time the D has time to react. Play action is the name of this game and DD got the call off 2 of them!

      • 1notredamefan - Sep 3, 2013 at 6:27 PM

        You don’t necessarily have to be the fastest QB to run in the pistol either.. just elusive and that’s perfect for Tommy

      • nudeman - Sep 3, 2013 at 8:43 PM

        Well that is ridiculous because he’s not elusive

        Not trying to start a TR bash-fest here, but I couldn’t let that one go

    • paiten34 - Sep 4, 2013 at 9:32 PM

      The pistol O –

      Nude it’s all about angels that give runners a different look as opposed to other line ups. The QB is in a normal shotgun formation keeping him off the line of scrimmage. In the pistol the RB is lined up directly behind the QB 1 yard. Normally this line up is used with a mobile QB in a read option play. However it works well with QBs like Reese.

      • 1notredamefan - Sep 5, 2013 at 5:10 PM

        thanks… you were able to sum that up better than I did!

      • 1notredamefan - Sep 5, 2013 at 5:13 PM

        also has alot to do with the TE and receivers? rite? I’m thinking thats what throws defenders off bc of the same backfield yet so many diff variations of 2, 3 and 4 wideouts..

  2. obie1818 - Sep 3, 2013 at 12:36 PM

    Anyone else notice if it weren’t for dropped passes and missed field goals this game would have been a lot closer! Hopefully just first game and a bit rusty. We will need to be significantly better @ Mich. Amir looked well worth the wait. No pics. Front 7 needs to get to Gardner often. Sat will be crazy, go Irish !!

    • bostonjan - Sep 3, 2013 at 12:48 PM

      Any word on injuries to ND players; or to Michigan players (other than Green – #2 RB)?

      Anyone see the Las Vegas line on the game, yet?

    • alsatiannd - Sep 3, 2013 at 12:54 PM

      For solace think back to last year and how our Purdue game was a narrow scrape, but then we pulled it together for Michigan. That’s not a lock this year, but neither is it a hopeless probability either.

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - Sep 3, 2013 at 1:59 PM

      I did notice that if we made a couple of FGs and Daniels doesn’t pull up lame on a nicely thrown ball, the score could’ve been 41-6 and more of the blowout that people were looking for. I hate this saying but, it is what it is.

      • ndnapa - Sep 4, 2013 at 11:35 AM

        and ND also could have scored on the last drive if Hendrix cared to.

    • tsombanj - Sep 4, 2013 at 8:34 AM

      I didn’t see dropped passes. I saw missed throws.

  3. yaketyyacc - Sep 3, 2013 at 12:47 PM

    pistol packin mama, now something else for Michigan to think about. Michigan has Toussaint, if I spelled it correctly, while Notre Dame has Georgie boy III, Carlisle, TJ. etc. and now Notre Dame has the pistol formation. faster and more explosive, like the name infers, a speeding bullet.
    Remember the golden rule, Do Unto Michigan what Alabama did Unto You…. to paraphrase the song: Pistol packin Irish, lay that pistol down, right in big blue’s stadium. more powerful then a speeding bullet.. is it a bird, is it a plane, its THE FIGHTING IRISH!

  4. jem5b - Sep 3, 2013 at 2:20 PM

    UM is 3.5 favorites against the Irish.
    Not an impressive win, but a win.
    Disappointed in Bobby D’s defense, love him and his personality, but since the FSU game at the end of the 2011 season, my ardor has cooled.
    A terrific Joisey guy.
    Maybe in Bobby D’s defense their middle linebacking recruits sans Manti seem mediocre.

    • ekalderf - Sep 3, 2013 at 7:39 PM

      Pistol, shotgun, dare i say it, tommy gun…whatever you want to call it this team needs to improve in order to handle MI and other quality teamson this year’s schedule. Kicking game and defense were unnervingly concerning.

      After watching portions of Alabama, Clemson and FSU wins it would appear we have a ways to go to compete at that level.

      Go Irish!

      • bearcatirishfan - Sep 3, 2013 at 9:03 PM

        Oh good, nick name based on the worst rocky villain from the worst rocky movie

    • tsombanj - Sep 4, 2013 at 8:35 AM

      You will see a more aggressive defense this week. ND held back versus Temple. Faith in Bobby!!

  5. irishaggie - Sep 3, 2013 at 2:24 PM

    I liked what I saw from it this last game. I almost feel like the offensive line likes the pistol better (or maybe they’re just way better). Another token from this weekend from my point of view is that Cam is our best between the tackles RB. George needs to step up his game or he’ll find himself 4th on the depth chart rather quickly.

  6. nudeman - Sep 3, 2013 at 8:54 PM

    I can’t believe how down everyone is on GAIII.

    The man is a 220 lb-er with near world class speed. By itself that doesn’t make him the default #1 RB, but it means you can’t just toss him overboard after one game.
    Can someone point to one thing he did wrong Saturday?
    Had he had the same hole Carlisle had on the first play, he’d have broken off a 45 yard run too.
    I don’t ever recall seeing him have that much daylight on ANY of his carries.

    This “GAIII is no good” stuff is taking on a life of its own. If the other 4 guys were the reincarnation of Csonka, Sayers, Brown and Barry Sanders, then yes, I’d say move him down the depth chart. But they’re not and every one of them has limitations too.

    Carlisle is not big enough to carry 15 times/game and run between the tackles consistently
    Cam is a change of pace back; no more.
    Folston & Bryant are talented but very young
    Mahone has been slow to develop

    Everyone settle down. I’m not predicting he’s an AA in the making; just saying he deserves more than one game where he frankly didn’t play badly at all

    • bearcatirishfan - Sep 3, 2013 at 9:11 PM

      What? We’re you not calling for him to become a wide receiver all offseason? Maybe that was bern.

      Might be better in a different thread but here goes. There’s been a lot of talk about the d line’s performance. One thing I noticed is we rushed only three a lot, so that might a count for all the double teams.

      One good thing this team plays better on the road, well last years team did anyway.

      • nudeman - Sep 3, 2013 at 9:24 PM

        I have NEVER called for him to be a WR.

        He has the size and speed to be an elite WR, but he supposedly lacks hands, and that’s been mentioned since he stepped on campus. That’s where they tried him first but his ball skills were poor.

      • bearcatirishfan - Sep 3, 2013 at 10:20 PM

        Right couldn’t remember who said what sorry for any wrong accusations

    • jommy995 - Sep 3, 2013 at 10:10 PM

      One game? He’s a junior. I’m no expert (understatement of the year candidate), but I thought he had an uncanny tendency to miss holes.

      • nudeman - Sep 3, 2013 at 10:27 PM

        One game as the #1 RB.
        I have never heard he misses holes; the recurring knock is that he runs high.

        Look, I have a feeling he’s not going to finish the year as the #1 guy. But he did nothing wrong on Saturday – no fumbles, dropped passes or missed blocks. He worked his ass off in the offseason, put on a lot of good weight in his lower body, and has earned more than one game as the starting RB.

        Ultimately, if he can’t get it done he’ll be moved down.

    • duncanslabs - Sep 4, 2013 at 8:45 AM

      It is not that we are down on GAIII, but he needs to stop running so tentatively…my belief is that if he had Cam’s mentality running North and South coupled with his speed he would be like greased lightening! Everyone comments on how fast he is but the coaches have him running laterally and our offensive line is built to move perpendicularly. He would be best suited very much like Rocket Ismail…KO, Flanker with short inside throws coming from behind Troy because he is so big! He needs to focus on hitting that hole without thinking…trust your speed GAIII and do not over think! Get it and GO!!!

    • danirish - Sep 4, 2013 at 9:36 AM

      The issue that annoys me is that he has this awesome gift called world class speed and he doesn’t use it. He is getting real careful on returns – dancing instead of running. On returns, once you stop, you’re stopped.

      As for RB, the others are better. Amir can carry 15 times, McDaniel is an everydown back – lay off this “change of pace” stuff (I could ask you the same “Why you so down on Cam?”) and the youth has played so might as well play them.

      He runs straight up – did you see his first (or second) carry? POW! Could’ve been a fumble. If he doesn’t take the next step, the step the others have taken, he could hurt himself.

      Let him play, but he needs to take that next step…but not at the cost of the others.

    • ibleedirish - Sep 4, 2013 at 11:17 AM

      I’m down on Atkinson (not that kind of down asman) for a simple reason. He isn’t a good running back. Never has been. Good running backs don’t tip toe and good running backs don’t turn their shoulders to avoid a hit. Until I see him try to inflict some pain instead of avoid hit, he should be on the bench.

    • ndnapa - Sep 4, 2013 at 11:45 AM

      The biggest problems I have with GA are he runs way too high and he misses very large holes the OL creates. The freshmen already see the holes better than he does. Great athlete, but doesn’t really have a position he could play well. Maybe the light will go on, but he only has 2-3 more starts until Carlisle and the frosh take his reps. The best have to play.

  7. duncanslabs - Sep 4, 2013 at 9:11 AM

    I realize Temple was the first game of the season, and I believe that ND played 3 down lineman to give the D-Line that extra dose of conditioning with the double teaming prior to the MU game. Just as in Poker, steady as she goes!
    What I do see starting to happen with BK is the sideline mentality he had 2 years ago with TR, I don’t think he has the patience he does with Golson, perhaps because he knows how smart TR is but TR makes the mental errors where as Golson has the athletic ability to extend a play. Just an observation I made last week. If BK starts to show that he is losing faith in TR…it will be a long season!

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