Bruins hope new offense won’t leave them outgunned – LA Times

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By Chris Foster
Los Angeles Times

August 8, 2010

UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow is preparing for what will be thrown the Bruins’ way this fall, beyond whatever the Kansas State defense has in mind for the season opener.

Chow chuckled when told some of the many jokes columnists, analysts and headline writers have had holstered at the ready since UCLA adopted the “pistol” offense. All want to see the . . . wait for it . . . “caliber” of play it produces.

“Pistol whipped,” “gun controlled” and ” shooting blanks” were accurate portrayals when the offense, pioneered by Nevada Coach Chris Ault, sputtered through the Bruins’ spring game.

“I’ve been called a lot worse things,” Chow said, then added, “How about if it works?”

Then the last laugh will belong to the Bruins.

UCLA fans have been waiting for offensive fun and frolic since Coach Rick Neuheisel and Chow arrived in 2008. Instead, UCLA averaged 17.7 points in 2008 and 22 points last season, the two lowest figures in Chow’s 25 seasons as a college coordinator at Brigham Young, North Carolina State, USC and UCLA.

That led to change, and the Bruins reloaded with the pistol.

The offense made Nevada the top rushing team in the nation last season, with three players carrying for more than 1,000 yards, including quarterback Colin Kaepernick. “Three 1,000-yard rushers was appealing,” Neuheisel said.

UCLA ranked 97th out of 120 Division I teams in rushing offense last season and 116th in 2008. Neuheisel and Chow say they haven’t jettisoned the old offense, but Neuheisel acknowledged, “We couldn’t avoid the obvious.”

The Bruins used the pistol exclusively during spring practice. Though it wasn’t always on target, Neuheisel said, “What we saw gave us ample reason to continue the investment.”

This is a philosophical shift for Chow, who has always had his quarterbacks under center (the pistol has them taking shotgun snaps). That was good enough to earn Heisman Trophy awards for Ty Detmer at BYU and Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at USC.

But Chow had to take a more conservative approach in game plans the last two seasons, given the players available. Now the talent level has risen, which triggered interest in the pistol.

“I think that we owe it to our players to put them in the best position possible so they can be successful,” Chow said. “Football continues to change. Stubborn guys who refuse to change don’t last.”

A similar thought crossed Ault’s mind after the 2004 season.

“I announced a month before spring practice that we were going run this thing called the ‘pistol,’ ” Ault said. “My staff looked at me like, ‘He’s lost it.’ But that first spring we saw some flashes of why you want to run it. We could do things out of it people had never seen before.”

The offense has the quarterback four yards behind center and a lone running back directly behind him, instead of to the side as in the shotgun formation. There is sleight-of-hand deception by the quarterback, which Oregon has used effectively. It differs from the shotgun because, Ault said, “That was designed for the pass; this helps your running game.”

Nevada averaged 344.9 yards a game last season