Kenny Dillingham’s Offense and the Inclusion of the Pistol

Coach Eric Boles Analysis

There is a sentiment among those who follow Oregon football that we have no idea what Coach Kenny Dillingham plans on doing offensively with the Oregon Ducks. But we actually have a pretty good idea. It’s uncommon for a coach who learned under an extremely successful coordinator/play-caller to drastically deviate from that system when he becomes “the guy.” Coach Dillingham has been an effective offensive coordinator under both Coach Mike Norvell and Coach Gus Malzahn, who both run slightly different variations of the same offense. Dillingham will continue to bring his own spin to the offense.

The part that could give some Oregon fans pause is that the Pistol is very prevalent in his system. Though that may scare a few folks, it shouldn’t. It’s understandable that Oregon fans would rather not see the alignment again given that their experience with it has been a little less than what was desired. The truth is that the full ability of the Pistol was never really realized at Oregon, even if it flashed at times. That could be part of the reason that it was almost non-existent in the 2021 offense.

One aspect that I really like about the way Coach Dillingham has used the Pistol is that he utilizes a reduced spacing. Where Oregon had been known to line the running back up three yards behind the quarterback, Coach Dillingham lines him up at only two yards behind the QB. At first, the one-yard difference doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but it allows plays to develop and hit a little quicker. In plays like the Zone Read, that one yard could make all the difference between an athletic defender having to make a quick decision or just being able to attack the mesh.

As far as the run game itself is concerned, it’s appreciated just how varied Coach Dillingham’s is, and that extends to the Pistol. Just about every run play that he has in his playbook is run from both the Pistol and the Shotgun. Though I have been a big supporter of the use of the Pistol at Oregon, even I can admit that what we saw wasn’t extremely varied, as they usually leaned on Inside and Wide Zone. Let me be clear, you can absolutely create a very capable rushing attack that way, as we have seen, but it’s a welcome idea that the number of gap scheme runs is about to go way up.

The varied style of run plays in this system goes all the way back to Coach Malzahn with the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes. The offense uses everything from Inside and Outside Zone to Power, Counter and Buck Sweep. It has a whole host of QB and Jet Sweep options also. The fact that this system has been able to routinely use all of this, and be effective with all of it, is quite honestly impressive.

So, what type of offense is Coach Dillingham going to run with the Oregon Ducks? If we had to wager, the offense that he has studied under his entire career would be a good bet. It’s the Smashmouth Spread of Coach Malzahn that was passed down to Coach Norvell and now to him. The increased use of the Pistol was one of Norvell’s spins on the offense as he shaped it into his own, and now Oregon fans will get to see how Coach Dillingham decides to do the same.

Coach Eric Boles
Newark, Ohio
Top Photo Credit: Jerry Thompson

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