When Colin Kaepernick was in college at Nevada, he was a phenomenal player — the first player in NCAA Division 1 history to pass for 10,000 yards and run for 4,000 yards in his career. But he wasn’t a Heisman Trophy candidate or a first-round draft pick, in part because many people thought the Nevada “pistol” offense was a gimmick.
Now that Kaepernick has led the 49ers to the Super Bowl from the pistol, the man who invented the offense, former Nevada coach Chris Ault, is celebrating what he has accomplished — and predicting big things for the pistol in the NFL going forward.
Ault said on NFL Network this morning that contrary to what some people believe, the pistol isn’t predicated on a quarterback running the ball. In fact, Ault said he believes NFL defenses will be able to take away a lot of the runs that Kaepernick does so well. It’s just that when defenses are focused on preventing Kaepernick from getting to the outside, that leaves a lot open in the middle. Ault said he thought Frank Gore’s two touchdown runs against the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game were set up by the defense having to worry about Kaepernick running in the read-option.
“I think defenses will catch up, but here’s the beauty of the pistol: I know we saw Kaep run for 181 yards against Green Bay — that’s certainly the read part of the game, it’s great — but what you saw last week is what I believe our pistol brings to the table: Kaep didn’t run it. He read it and handed it off because Atlanta was taking away Kaep on the outside,” Ault said. “And those two plays, I believe, that Gore scored on, both of them were read-type plays. The beauty of what we’ve done in the pistol and what I’ve seen the 49ers and the Redskins doing, is, it’s not just the read play itself. It’s also the play-action pass off of it.”
Ault said the pistol formation, in which the quarterback is not under center but is closer to the line of scrimmage than a typical shotgun formation, with a running back directly behind the quarterback, makes it harder for the defense to key on the running back.
“When that back sits behind the quarterback, the linebackers do not have a clear view of what he’s doing,” Ault said. “You can run downhill power games, counters, gaps and all that from the pistol.”
Anyone who thought the pistol was all about the quarterback running the ball after watching Kaepernick’s record-breaking rushing game against the Packers saw in the 49ers’ win over the Falcons that that’s not the case: Kaepernick led the 49ers to a win while running just two times for 23 yards.
“I don’t think the NFL quarterbacks are all going to start running the ball 15 times a game,” Ault said. “But if you’ve got the read in your offense, it is a threat, it’s something you’ve got to be concerned about, and of course if you’ve got a guy like Kaep who can run like a gazelle, you’ve got to be more than concerned with it. You’ve got to put one and a half people on him.”
Ault said that any NFL team, even those with slow, pocket passers, could run its offense out of the pistol.
“They could run the pistol formation,” Ault said. “They don’t need to run the read part of it. When we first put the pistol in, in 2005 and 2006, that’s all we ran — we ran the power, the gap, the counters, the zones, the outside stuff. We did not run the read at that time. So the pistol offense, the most important thing there is you can run any offense you’ve been running.”
Ault isn’t suggesting that his offense is the best for every team — he acknowledged that it has weaknesses and strengths like any other system. But he says it’s not a gimmick. It’s here to stay.