Pistol offense catching on in the Big Ten

April, 1, 2009
4/01/09
10:40
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A dozen years ago, Joe Tiller changed the landscape of Big Ten football by installing the spread offense at Purdue. Team scoring records immediately began to fall.

As Tiller departs a league filled with adaptations of the spread, another system could be catching on in the heartland.

Indiana is spending much of the spring operating in the pistol offense, the abbreviated shotgun system where the quarterback and running back are staggered in the backfield. Hoosiers coaches recently visited their counterparts at Nevada, home of pistol offense creator Chris Ault.

Nevada first implemented the pistol in 2004 and has finished in the top 30 nationally in total offense in four of the last five seasons, placing fifth nationally last fall (508.5 yards per game).

Indiana hopes the pistol creates a better rhythm with the offense and jump-starts a running game that has been too reliant on quarterback Kellen Lewis the last few years.

"Our plays now, out of the pistol, give us more of an option of where to run," running back Demetrius McCray said. "In the gun, it's hard to see everything, because you're going at an angle. In the pistol you're going straight on, and you have more options."

The Hoosiers aren't the only Big Ten squad exploring the pistol offense. Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel undoubtedly will be asked Thursday whether he plans to incorporate more elements of the pistol system when the Buckeyes open spring practice.

Ohio State dabbled with the pistol during preseason camp last summer and used it at times during the 2008 season. And Tressel reportedly is interested in adding the Wildcat offense or more of the Pistol to Ohio State's repertoire to accommodate versatile sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

After finishing 76th nationally in total offense last fall, Ohio State needs to do something different. Same goes for Indiana, which finished 71st in total offense in 2008.

If Indiana and Ohio State see some early success with the pistol this fall, you can bet other Big Ten teams will catch on. Maybe then, a league that still gets branded as being behind the times schematically can catch up in a sport that craves offense more than ever.

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