Stanford prepping for pistol

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- So far this season, each week has provided the Stanford Cardinal with a new and unique test. Tomorrow’s matchup against UCLA is no different.

  • Against San Jose State, it was David Shaw’s first game as a head coach. And he passed that test with flying colors.

  • Against Duke, it was Stanford’s task to travel three time zones and play in uncomfortable weather. No problem.

  • At Arizona, it was the secondary’s turn to try to slow down Nick Foles, one of the most accurate passers in the country. They didn’t slow him down completely, but they provided enough of a speed bump that the front seven was able to create pressure to keep him from really breaking out.

Tomorrow, it will be the pistol offense.

“We’ve watched what they’ve done the past few weeks,” said Stanford linebacker Max Bergen. “They’ve really shown they can run the ball with a lot of big people in the box.”

The advantage of the pistol is that with the quarterback lined up four yards behind center, rather than the usual seven-yard shotgun (ergo, pistol), he’s still able to read the defense, but linebackers have less time to react.

“You have to be locked in and communicate on defense,” said Stanford coach David Shaw. “Every defense you run, you have to account for the dive, the quarterback pull and you have to account for there being an extra blocker that might come across, whether it’s the receiver or running back or tight end. You have to be extremely well coordinated … everything we run has to be sound against what they do.”

UCLA, which averages 214 rushing yards per game, has a pair of running back options they can throw at Stanford. Johnathan Franklin is the smaller, speedier back. Derrick Coleman, at 240 pounds, is a bowling ball. Franklin left UCLA’s game against Oregon State last week with a bruised hip, but said he probably could have returned. That opened the door for Coleman to rush for 100 yards on 20 carries.

“He’s thick, and he’ll drag tacklers,” Shaw said. “... They understand the pistol offense. The running backs in the pistol offense -- those backs have to be decisive and they have to go toward the line of scrimmage full speed. And the big ones can get a full head of steam, and the quicker ones, they get to the line of scrimmage so quick.

“…While you’re still in decision-mode of who has the ball, they’ve got a 4-yard gain. It can be an exciting form of offense, and they’ve got good players that fit it.”

And in case you haven’t heard, Stanford has a pretty good run defense. Statistically speaking, the best run defense in the country, allowing just 36 yards per game. They are fast and physical. But UCLA wants to go muscle-for-muscle with them.

“You understand as you do in prize fighting that you’re going in against somebody that likes to punch, likes to slug,” said UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel. “Our defense has to understand that and our offense has to understand that. It’s a key piece to this game, the physical nature that they like to play with, and frankly it’s been kind of their calling card.”

The pistol has grown in popularity over the past half decade, and strands of the formation have trickled across the college football landscape, and even into the NFL. Shaw said they have a few pistol packages in the playbook if they need to mix things up.

“There is a bit more you need to get ready for,” Bergen said. “But by the end of the week, we’re all set with what our assignments are and what our jobs are … We’re looking forward to having an offense like this really challenge our run defense.”