Pistol formation paying early dividends

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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.”