More than any other hire that the Oregon has made this off-season, I am excited about the hiring of Jim Mastro as running backs coach, whom Head Coach Mario Cristobal was able to lure away from Mike Leach and Washington State. Mastro’s biggest calling cards is that he helped Chris Ault create the Pistol Offense while at the University of Nevada.
A persisting argument among fans, and some coaches, is whether the Pistol is actually an offense or merely a formation. I’m really not all that concerned with that. Instead, I’m interested in what this hire could mean for the Duck offense, as Mastro has also been named run game coordinator. This hints that Cristobal may want to utilize Mastro’s Pistol specialties.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Pistol, it is simply a shotgun formation with the running back lined up 3-4 yards directly behind the quarterback, instead of off to the side. This alignment hides the direction of any run play, forcing the defense to play a more balanced front. This is an improvement over the traditional shotgun because most runs from this formation must come across the quarterback’s face, allowing the defense to align their strength opposite of the running back.
In the video above, watch as Nevada runs a play from the Pistol; it should look familiar. In fact, it is the very same Buck Sweep play that I wrote about in November. This is but one example of how many plays Oregon already uses out of the Shotgun can be enhanced from a Pistol look.
All of Oregon’s base run plays can be run from the Pistol. That includes the Inside Zone and the Outside Zone, the latter of which also goes by the name Stretch. However, another area where the Pistol shows off its power is in the play-action passing game.
We see in the video above how lethal play-action can be from the Pistol. The threat of the running back attacking downhill at full speed sucks the linebackers in, allowing the quarterback to hit his receiver in the flat for a touchdown. Another aspect I really like is that play-action can be run in multiple ways from the Pistol, whereas it all pretty much looks the same from the shotgun.
Now, there are a few plays that you can run from the shotgun that you cannot do from the Pistol. A couple examples of this would be an Outside Zone with a read on the backside, as well as the Inverted Veer. That being said, it is hardly a problem to run the Pistol Offense with some shotgun sprinkled in.
In instances where you want to run shotgun, you could simply line up in the formation, but I would much rather shift from the Pistol. Above is an example of the kind of shift I’m talking about from Ohio State. This shift look does not allow the defense to adjust, whereas if you line up in shotgun from the get-go, the defense can align accordingly and knows you can only run a handful of running plays.
Another key to mixing in the shotgun is to not just run plays that you can’t run in the Pistol. Instead, run plays in shotgun that I can also run from the Pistol, to throw the defense off. For example, shift to shotgun, allow the defense to realign and then run a toss to the other side. Or, you could simply shift to give another look for the play-action game. The possibilities are almost endless.
The Pistol offense would fit right in with the type of Power Spread that Oregon recently adopted. Mastro was wasted at WSU, though I understand that Mike Leach has a very specific pass-happy system that doesn’t quite mesh with the type of run game discussed here.
It would be a mistake for Cristobal to bring in the co-creator of the Pistol Offense and not utilize his system in our run-heavy kind of spread offense, but I don’t believe that will happen. Spring ball should certainly be interesting!
Coach Eric Boles
Top Photo Credit: 247Sports.com