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Indiana adds pistol formation for firepower

4/28/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The pistol formation won't merely be a once-in-a-while element of Indiana's offense during the 2009 season.

Asked how much the Hoosiers operated out of the pistol this spring, starting quarterback Ben Chappell replied, "Pretty much 100 percent."

"We still have the ability to go under center and also the shotgun," Chappell continued, "but we really concentrated on the pistol this spring to get comfortable with it."

Indiana's coaching staff re-evaluated pretty much everything after the team stumbled to a 3-9 record last fall. Although the Hoosiers set records with spread offense in 2007, when they snapped a 14-year bowl drought behind quarterback Kellen Lewis and wide receiver James Hardy, the coaches felt the scheme needed more variety.

They found it in the pistol, a modified shotgun formation where the quarterback and running back are staggered several yards apart directly behind the center.

The Hoosiers' coaches took a liking to the formation soon after the 2008 season and informed Chappell of a likely change. They also took a trip early this spring to Nevada, which pioneered the use of the pistol under head coach Chris Ault.

The pistol maintains the familiar shotgun snap but creates more opportunity in the run game.

"It gives the flexibility of being able to run right or left, depending on the blocking scheme that you want to use," Indiana head coach Bill Lynch said. "Versus in the spread, you're somewhat limited, other than some misdirection. We also think it gives us better play-action. You can sell it a little bit more with the pistol formation."

Indiana loses leading rusher Marcus Thigpen and needs to identify capable ball-carriers other than Lewis, who will primarily play wide receiver this fall after moving from quarterback. Lewis led Indiana in rushing as a sophomore and finished second last fall.

The arrival of the pistol is sitting well with Hoosiers backs like Bryan Payton, Demetrius McCray and Darius Willis.

"They talked about how it makes it a lot easier to make the cuts and see the holes," Chappell said. "It's natural for most of our backs to run from behind the quarterback in an [I-formation]. It gives them good vision and a lot more options."

Chappell spent much of the winter watching Nevada film and trying to adjust his footwork for the pistol. The staggered formation changes the timing for handoffs and play-action passes, and Chappell admits the timing is slightly different with each running back.

"It's just a matter of getting reps in it and getting used to it," he said. "It wasn't too awful. I'm trying to get consistent and make the runs and the passes look the same."

By moving Lewis, a former All-Big Ten quarterback, to wide receiver for most of the time, Lynch reaffirmed his faith in Chappell, who split time with Lewis in 2008. Chappell had mixed results last season, completing 52.3 percent of his passes for 1,001 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. But he led Indiana to its only Big Ten victory, against Northwestern.

Being the definitive starter with the coaches' support helped Chappell this spring as he adjusted to the pistol.

"After a 3-9 season, you've got to take a step back and see what you did and what you need to change," Chappell said. "We didn't panic, but we made some good changes in different areas. Everyone has stepped it up."