Pistol Gives Tech Versatility

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As noted following the scrimmage on Saturday, Virginia Tech is putting in a new pistol formation offense this spring. With the amount they worked on the pistol formation during the scrimmage, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the staff is considering basing their entire offense around the pistol this year. When the spring is over, they’ll reflect on their personnel and how they performed, and then make the final decision before practice begins in August.

I’m not the best X’s and O’s guy in the world, but I’ll do my best to describe the pistol offense, why it was created, and why Virginia Tech is considering moving in that direction.

The pistol formation was developed by Nevada head coach Chris Ault. It features the quarterback lining up in a shortened shotgun formation, four yards behind the center rather than a usual seven yards. The tailback lines up three yards directly behind the quarterback, and not offset to either side. The pistol formation gives an offense the flexibility to attack a defense with a shotgun/spread attack while retaining the ability to hit them with an I-formation/ACE formation power running game.

In the past we’ve been critical of the offensive coaching staff for trying to do too much on offense. At the core of Virginia Tech’s program, there is the power running game. That will never change as long as Frank Beamer is head coach. At this same time, to take advantage of personnel, the Hokies have slowly but surely introduced a spread offense to Blacksburg, and with Logan Thomas we’ve seen a more high-profile passing game. There have been many different formations, both spread and power, and many different gameplans.

There are basic strengths and weaknesses of a quarterback being in a shotgun formation, or being under center:

A shotgun formation is more conducive to passing the football, because it gives the quarterback a better read of the defense, and he can set up and get the ball away more quickly. The shotgun also has the disadvantage of your running back taking the handoff before he gets a running start, which leads to more plays being stopped in the backfield.

A formation with the quarterback under center requires better footwork, and if there is quick pressure on the quarterback there isn’t enough time for him to set his feet and get rid of the ball. On the other hand, in the running game it gives the tailback a chance to get up to speed and start “running downhill” before he gets the handoff.