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Nevada's Pistol Formation and the Run/Pass Option

By John Harris
August 7, 2013

I was six when I remember hearing the words "wishbone" and truly understanding that it wasn't the salad dressing on the table.  From as early as I can remember, I went to every single one of my dad's practices and watched as he gave clinics to his players on the triple option.  Dive.  Pull.  Pitch.  Heck, he schooled me (as a QB) on it and I was slow as molasses.  I remember him going to Oklahoma's coaching clinic and studying the Sooners' wishbone triple option under Barry Switzer.  What my dad did, I wanted to do.  I watched the option go up and down the field and fell in love with the option at an early age.

When I became a coach, though, I lost track of my option roots, and I wanted to throw the ball around the yard.  I coached in Jacksonville, a short drive from Gainesville, and fell in love with Steve Spurrier's passing game concepts.  I coached with a man who became a great friend of mine, Brady Ackerman, who played and coached under Spurrier.  Ralph and Lonnie.  Steamers.  Mills Route.  I studied it all and that's what I wanted to do when I became a head coach.   By 1999, the option, as I remembered it, had seemingly died, lying in a cemetery with the Notre Dame box, the T formation and (gulp) the wishbone.

Then, in December 1999, I watched Georgia Southern run the triple option unlike any team that I had ever seen.  Consequently, I fell in love with it again.   The precision.  The beauty.  The execution.  I went to Statesboro, GA during the spring of 2000 and learned the principles that made Paul Johnson's offense work like clockwork.  Count numbers.  Zone the backside.  Dive.  Pull.  Pitch.  

By midseason 2000, my coaching transformation was nearly complete.  I ran arc option, trap option, midline option and speed option nearly 75 percent of the time.  I didn't bring the wishbone back, but I sure as heck was going to battle with the option as Johnson was doing at Georgia Southern.

Johnson parlayed his two national championships at Georgia Southern into an opportunity at Georgia Tech where he continues to run the triple option.  He was, and still is, the only one left.

Yet, he's one of many in the college game that live and die with option football -- option football, 2013 style.

It's not dive, pull, pitch, but it definitely is option football.  The advent of the stick/draw is a perfect example.  West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen steals yards with his version of option football.  Read the OLB.  If he drops into coverage, give the draw.  If he moves into the box, throw the stick route to a slot receiver.  Option football, ta-da!  

The best illustration I have of modern option football, though, is found within one of the most innovative offenses in all of college football.  Chris Ault's offensive innovation at Nevada has altered the course of football history on many different levels.  The Pistol formation spawned so many different wrinkles for Jeff Rowe (who you don't know), Colin Kaepernick (who you do know) and Cody Fajardo (who you will know).

Either way, Nevada consistently moves the football on any and every team it faces using its version of option football.  I figured it was easier to prove that through video.


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