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Galina: The evolution of the pistol offense in college football

Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA; Louisville Cardinals quarterback Malik Cunningham (3) runs the ball past Boston College Eagles linebacker Max Richardson (14) during the second half at Alumni Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

There are rarely new concepts in football. Coaches repackage and repurpose old concepts to fit the modern world more than inventing entirely new ideas. A particular new concept — and “new” can still be debated — is the “pistol” formation. Invented in the mid-2000s by Nevada head coach Chris Ault, this concept has gone from gimmick to mainstay but has evolved philosophically, as well. 

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Ault had been the head coach of Nevada in the mid-1990s as the program jumped into Division 1-A, going 25-10 in his three seasons. Yet, the program fell on hard times in the ensuing years, going 39-53 until Ault was rehired in 2004. It was in his second stint as the Wolfpack head coach that the team began toying with the idea of combining the shotgun and under-center running back and quarterback alignments, which they ultimately called the “pistol.”   

“Ault wanted to combine the spread passing game that you get from the shotgun with the power running game. The running back lines up behind the quarterback, so he is moving toward the line of scrimmage, and the quarterback is only 4 yards behind the center as opposed to 6,” wrote Vic Tafur, then of the San Francisco Chronicle.

These two looks…

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