By Mike Kuchar
Since some form of triple option has integrated itself into many programs’ playbooks, so we didn’t find it to be surprising that some coaches were using it from Pistol formations; we were just surprised at the volume of coaches that were implementing it. Originally, triple option concepts such as the veer option, were not even included in our research. We knew teams were using gap and zone principles with at least one variable of single option, but triple option out of the Pistol is in fact here and it’s making it mark. It’s important to note that ALL of the coaches we spoke with for this Case are utilizing the Pistol formation 100 percent of snaps next season. They have bought in, completely to the effectiveness of the Pistol formation.
We did, however, find a discrepancy in teams that are either double option teams (such as read zone or bubble) and triple option teams that include a pitch variant. Nevada was more of the former under previous head coach Chris Ault. The Wolfpack used read zone concepts that were more double option in nature partly because they wanted Colin Kaepernick to keep the ball as much as possible but also because a choice had to be made among the staff whether or not they can do both. “We had to ask the question, do we feel comfortable running the option or do you want our QB to run it,” said Cameron Norcross, the offensive line coach under Ault and now at the same position at Fresno State University. “We weren’t an option team, we were a team that ran the option. The least amount of times that we could pitch the ball the better. We figured we would run load (option) most of the time and block the alley defender. We’d see guys running to the pitch guy, and we would just turn up into the alley.”
We spoke to Bob DeBesse, the former offensive coordinator at perennial FCS power Sam Houston State who is now at the same position at the University of New Mexico. Under DeBesse, New Mexico finished fifth in the country in rushing this past season, averaging 301.3 yard per game. According to DeBesse, the triple concept is more relevant in New Mexico than it was at Sam Houston state due to several reasons. “It’s more so out of necessity and what we can hang our hat on. They (the players at New Mexico) picked it up the quickest. We have a good mechanical QB and he mastered the mesh of the triple. Had a lot to do with the makeup of the entire team. We knew we had to be different and we knew we had to control the football. It was best for us based on our makeup. I was surprised that the inside zone wasn’t the number one run play here as it was at Sam Houston.”
So, to reiterate Coach Norcross’s point is you an option team or do you run option? If you’re either of the two, there is plenty of information below to help.
Pistol Formation Advantages
According to DeBesse, the Lobos will run triple option concepts from all personnel groupings in Pistol except for 10 personnel which is something he believes separates the Lobos from other programs. “I don’t think anybody has gone wholesale with the triple option like we have,” said DeBesse. “Most teams have used zone read schemes and inside zone schemes. The fact that we’ve added a pitch component has made us different.” Much like some of the other downhill run concepts, using veer schemes out of Pistol formations creates that quick hitting mesh game for the dive back, plus the QB could get out of the exchange and see the read quicker. The coaches we spoke with expanded on some benefits of using triple option schemes from the Pistol. Consider the laundry list below of advantages that the Pistol provides, which has helped Brian Sheehan, the head coach at Defiance College (OH) in its veer option game. Sheehan was the former offensive coordinator at Thomas Moore College, which won two Division Three consecutive conference championships in 2008 and 2009. Sheehan told us he is in the Pistol to set up his veer option game, just like other teams are in the Pistol to run their gap, man and zone schemes.
“The best way to run an option based offense is in the Pistol. I’m not saying pure option, because if you’re running midline and veer 90 percent of the time you can win every year and recruit to that every year and be successful. But if you need to throw the ball in critical situations. We want to throw with confidence in third and long, two-minute drill, being behind in games, etc. There are a certain number of fundamentals that need to be mastered to be able to do that.”- Sheehan
“It got us downhill more. It hides the running back. It produces deception on the zone read and the veer option as well. Those linebackers are not going to fly until they determine the directionality of the play. The veer is going to hit a lot quicker than inside zone. Scraping linebackers are no longer a problem and it’s helped our offensive lineman to get to second level.”- Sheehan
“It’s all hitting very quickly with three immediate threats.”- Sheehan
“It gets second level deception and the QB is not giving it away with the first two steps. LB’s cannot get a beat on where he is stepping. It allows us to get past those linebackers,”- Sheehan
“We’re increasing the QB’s comfort in the run game by creating more initial space against unblocked defenders. We’re eliminating the first two steps of the QB. If I’m running veer triple under Center the QB has to step away from the midline, he has to gather and he has to ride the running back into the line of scrimmage. With us, we’re going to catch and pivot so that’s another late indicator of which way the play is going.”- Sheehan
Ralph Isernia, the new head coach at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (NY) also has implemented the Pistol formation full time and tells us about the benefits the QB has in the mesh game for his triple option schemes. “The QB is away from the Center and is at four yards from when he touches the ball,” said Isernia. “He doesn’t need withdrawal steps to push away from the line of scrimmage. It cleans up his reads. When he gets out on the perimeter, he can leverage pitch and pitch it sooner than being under Center. Our QB’s have taken fewer hits on pitches than guys under Center because the play from a Shotgun is a little bit slower in shotgun than under Center. Under Center the play is like a Nolan Ryan fastball, it’s coming right at you. In Pistol it’s like a Mariano Rivera cutter. It looks like a fastball, but it’s got a little more movement to it. It hits slower which allows the running back to have multiple aiming points at the point of attack.”