Pistol: QB Footwork and Mesh Game

Nov 3, 2014 | Offense, Pistol Formation, Formation Structures

By Mike Kuchar

Senior Research Manager

X&O Labs




In this week’s research report on the Insiders’ membership website, we’re going to take an in-depth look at the QB’s footwork and the mesh game in the Pistol formation. Then, after we read this report, we’re going to move onto The Pistol Formation Study, which includes our research on all aspects of this formation. Plus, it includes 35 game films to illustrate our research findings. Let’s get started…

We all know the schemes look pretty, but when it comes down to option football, there is nothing more important than the mesh game. Don’t just take our word for it; listen to some of the more high-profile coaches we talked to for this report. Whomever we talked to, there was one common thread among teaching the mesh: Teach one thing, be consistent and don’t over coach it. That sentiment was echoed throughout our reporting on the mesh game from the Pistol.  Consider Portland State’s offensive coordinator Bruce Barnum’s quip about how he learned to teach the mesh in his option game. 

When Barnum first installed the Pistol in 2010 at Portland State, there was much ado about the QB/RB mesh in the option game. “I took all of Nevada’s video on Kaepernick,” said Barnum. They used to talk about jab stepping, stepping to six o’clock, clearing the back, etc. I turn on the film of Kaepernick and he catches the snap and hops in the air, stops and runs the read zone. I remember thinking this is crazy.”

Of course, Barnum was providing a little tongue and cheek humor, or perhaps just validating the super athlete that Kaepernick is. But, he was illustrating a fair point: be consistent. 

“As long as the ball is getting deep and the read is long - that’s important,” according to Barnum. “The last thing you want is that QB sticking that ball straight out because there is no read for that DE and there is no smoke to the mirrors. It’s got to be consistent. I don’t care if you jab step and clear. I don’t care if you open to six o’clock and he screams by you. We had a freshman last year who would ride the back all the way to the Center. It doesn’t matter as long as it’s consistent.”

So, as a research company, we did our own validation on this topic and we went right to the source, Washington State running backs coach Jim Mastro, who was the running backs coach under Ault while at Nevada and quite frankly who Cameron Norcross calls the “best Pistol running back coach in the country.” 

Since moving on from Nevada, Mastro has helped install the Pistol at UCLA under Coach Neuheisel and now is tinkering with it at WSU under Mike Leach. Mastro spoke about making sure things are uniformed in the mesh game, particularly in the zone read. “It’s not like the traditional run game which may be different because different QBs have different arm lengths,” said Mastro. “In the read zone game, the running back and QB must be attached at the hip or you will have balls on the ground all day long.”

Before we continue, I need to give you a quick ‘head’s up’… after you read this report on QB footwork and the mesh game, we’ll then go to The Pistol Formation Study, which includes all of our research and 35 game videos on the Pistol formation. In this study, we’ll take a look at all of the little-known coaching secrets and strategies that never came out of Nevada during head coach Chris Ault’s tenure. Our researchers were granted exclusive access to five of Coach Ault’s assistant coaches at Nevada. These coaches include Chris Klenakis, former OC; Jim Mastro, former Running Backs Coach; Cameron Norcross, former OL Coach; Kevin Maurice, a former GA; and, Dave Brown, another former GA on staff. In The Pistol Formation Study, these coaches break their silence on Nevada’s Pistol offense.

Next, let’s take a look at Coach Mastro’s 3-step drop and cock.

3-Step Drop and Cock:

In order to do this, Mastro teaches a three-step drop and cock fundamental which is extremely different than a typical ride and decide movement by the QB. He will drop out and be a cocked angle at the defensive end (read key),” said Mastro. “We don’t want to be parallel to the sidelines. We want him at a cocked angle. He will drop and cock out. The back foot goes a yard and a half. The front foot goes a yard, which puts him at a cocked angle. That ball is an extension of his arm. The arms will be bent and the ball will be right in the face of that defensive end. The big thing is to have bent arms. The QB can’t have a stiff arm or the ball straight out.”

Mastro calls the QB technique a ‘Snatch Technique.’  “It’s not a ride and decide,” he told us.  “The QB does not want to push the ball back to the running back. That ball is just held out there at that angle. By the time the running back gets to the QB (using the snatch technique), he knows if the QB is either pulling it or giving it. That’s why we had hardly had any fumbles. When it’s a ride and decide, he’s deciding pull it, keep it and there is hesitation. When it’s the snatch technique, by the time the running back gets there the QB knows either I’m pulling the ball or giving the ball. If he’s giving the ball he just loosens his thumbs, and if he’s keeping the ball he squeezes his thumbs. By the time the back got there, the QB already knew what he was doing. There is no grey area.