Pistol elements add wrinkle to offense

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Just to be clear, Notre Dame is not a pistol offense. But the unit's added wrinkle could tailor to the strengths of a six-man stable of running backs as it looks to boost its downhill rushing efforts.

"In Year 1 we ran a little bit of pistol, and I felt like it was something that I wanted to get into a little bit more of, and I think it fits some of the personnel that we have," Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly said. "George (Atkinson III) is a guy that I wanted to get downhill. As you know, he's got great speed and acceleration. He ran downhill very well in high school, and we felt like the pistol could fit him very well. Not just him, but we felt like it was something that could benefit us moving forward.

"Again, just another piece to our offense that gives us the versatility that we're looking for. I think week to week you may see it a little bit more than others, and some you may not see it at all. I just think it's another piece that helps us complement the players we have."

Former Nevada coach Chris Ault, the innovator of the pistol offense, spoke at the Notre Dame coaches' clinic this past spring. Ault began using the offense in Reno, Nev., in 2005, orchestrating a Wolf Pack rushing attack that was consistently among the nation's best.

In the pistol, the quarterback generally takes a snap four yards behind the line of scrimmage, closer than the typical shotgun. The running back is usually three yards directly behind the signal caller, creating more flexibility in terms of protections and directions of runs. And the back has a bit of a running start.

That could benefit Atkinson, the No. 1 back who has been more of a north-south runner than a bruiser during his first two years at Notre Dame.

Read-option elements make the pistol offense even more desirable with a running quarterback. Kelly said he would definitely have implemented the formation if Everett Golson was around this season.

"I think the principles of the shotgun offense still allow you to do some things from the home position," Kelly said. "When you are in the shotgun, you limit some of the runs that you have. When the back is offset, I think you open up a lot more versatility. The backers have to obviously play a lot more downhill. They can't offset one way or the other based upon the back. It also helps a little bit with your back working coast-to-coast in protections, as well."