Oregon football began its final week of preparation before Saturday’s spring game with a focus on a new versatile offense.
Head coach Mario Cristobal thinks the offense will run mostly out of shotgun and pistol formation, but hinted at the possibility of going under center as well. He even mentioned the famed fourth-down play by the Eagles in this past Super Bowl, where tight end Trey Burton threw a touchdown to quarterback Nick Foles, as a reference for some of the plays they are trying.
New running backs coach Jim Mastro has helped implement the “pistol” offense, which seems to be a focal point this season. The pistol is just a hybrid of two traditional offenses. The quarterback is in a shotgun position but not as far behind the center, while the running back is directly behind him, like a more traditional, under-center offense.
“We go fast, and the addition of the pistol gives us a couple things that I think are hard to defend,” Cristobal said. “We’re trying to continue to evolve. If you come back the exact same way as before, you’re gonna have a difficult time.”
Mastro was one of the innovators of the offense during his 11 years at Nevada as running backs coach. Toward the end of his time there, his pistol offense with Colin Kaepernick and Vai Taua rushed for 8,700 yards and broke Craig James and Eric Dickerson’s NCAA record for most rushing yards by a tandem in a career.
Although he has the most experience with the pistol, he is not the only coach on Oregon’s staff who has used it. Cristobal used it at Alabama, and offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo used it at Oklahoma State.
“I’m just helping them,” Mastro said. “They just kinda wanted some new ideas I think and different philosophies. I am just staying in my lane and doing what I am told and giving them ideas I think will help us.”
Mastro says the running backs faced the biggest challenge with the change, but they have seemingly grasped the concepts very well thanks to stressing attention to detail.
“When you’re in the pistol, the footwork of the quarterback and the running back is everything,” Mastro said. “When you’re offset and in the gun, there is a lot of leeway for mistakes. In this offense, in that formation, there’s not.”
The pistol reached its peak in popularity in 2012 when the San Francisco 49ers and Kaepernick ran it on their way to the Super Bowl. Lately, however, the offense has faded.
“No one is really doing it,” Mastro said. “Everyone kind of got away from it. We want to be majority in it. I think it makes defense show their hand a little bit.”
Mastro praised the offense’s ability to camouflage the play type by having running backs on both sides of the quarterback.
“You have zone-read football to both sides of the field,” Mastro said. “Your play action game is much more dynamic. It brings a lot to the table and coach Arroyo is doing a heck of a job finding new ways to use it.”
The change has been much easier for quarterback Justin Herbert. The junior feels the offensive scheme is still the same despite the new formations.
“It’s not a major difference,” Herbert said. “We’re not changing up any of the offense, we’re just putting them in different spots.”
The new-look offense will most likely be on display a little this Saturday for the spring game, but players are still hesitant to give anything away.
“I don’t know if I can spoil that,” Tony Brooks-James joked. “It’s gonna be different though.”
Follow Maverick Pallack on Twitter @mavpallack