Smart Football: Ault's Pistol vs. Tenuta's Defense


Chris Brown is the editor and creator of the website, which is every bit as intelligent as the website name implies. He’s taken a look at the Pistol offense before, and I asked him to give us a little slice of how he expected Notre Dame defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta to attack Chris Ault’s vaunted pistol offense. Enjoy.

To understand what Tenuta needs to do on defense you need to understand
at least the flavor of Nevada’s offense. What the “pistol” gives Nevada
is the ability to combine a downhill, pro-style (inside zone, outside
zone) and old-school option style game with some spread elements —
namely, the quarterback can do the zone-read and all of that good
stuff. But it’s not accurate to think of Nevada as a “spread” team in
the vein of Oregon or what Rich Rodriguez is doing at Michigan.

As videos like the above show, they want to rush it straight ahead;
that the quarterback, the 6-6 Colin Kaepernick who had over 1,000 yards
rushing last season, can also read the defense and pull the ball
himself is just gravy on top. One of the advantages this gives Chris
Ault is that they are much better at play-action and sucking the
defense up and throwing over the top than are most so-called “spread

So what does that mean? It means that you play Nevada almost like teams
used to have to play those old Nebraska teams, except Nevada can throw
it better than they could. (This is not to say Nevada can steamroll
people quite like Tom Osborne’s Cornhuskers.) The front seven has to be
disciplined, keep in their lanes, account for all of the offense’s run
options (quarterback, receivers or pitch backs, running backs), while
the safeties have to be cautious and cannot just sell out to stop the
run. This actually puts a lot of pressure on the cornerbacks, as they
will not get much help in pass coverage from the inside linebackers.

Whether or not Tenuta wants to be aggressive is really just a matter of
style. Zone blitzing could be effective, but it could also be a
distraction considering that Nevada wants to throw it first and often
does so in a very straight ahead, power-focused, old-school fashion.
Now, the defensive line will be key, and if they can defeat Nevada’s
zone blocking and get penetration into the backfield, most will think
they were “aggressive” enough, even if the Irish aren’t actually
blitzing. As I said, the front seven has to take on Nevada’s offensive
line and just play better than them.

If they can do this and bottle up the running backs — and also not lose
discipline and let Kaepernick gash them for big gains — then Notre
Dame shouldn’t have too much trouble with Nevada, as I’m confident that
ND can throw it against Nevada. If they can’t though, it might be a
shootout, and that’s not the way Charlie Weis wants to start the season.

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