Nebraska Expects Challenge From Nevada's 'Pistol' Offense

Friday, August 31st 2007, 2:30 pm
By: News On 6

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ Nebraska has seen plenty of shotgun formations from opposing offenses over the years. On Saturday, the 20th-ranked Cornhuskers get a look at the pistol.

Nevada coach Chris Ault is guru of the system that puts the quarterback 3 or 4 yards behind center rather than the 5 or more that is standard in the shotgun.

Draw plays, misdirection and options are featured in the running game. The passing game is marked by well-disguised play-action and quick timing routes.

``I like their offense and what they've done with it,'' Nebraska coach Bill Callahan said. ``I just think that what they've done in the past with their quarterbacks has been outstanding _ the way they feature them and how they play to their talents and skills.''

The offense was installed after the 2004 season. The Wolf Pack was coming off a 5-7 season, including a 3-5 mark in the Western Athletic Conference.

``When I got back in the saddle that first year, we were just pathetic,'' said Ault, who is starting the fourth season of his third stint as Nevada coach. ``My concern was how can you get better and compete in our conference. Long story short, I just felt I wanted the quarterbacks more involved in the offense, not just dropping back and not just running the bootleg.''

It wasn't an easy sell when Ault introduced the pistol in January 2005.

``When I told the staff we were going to look at it, they thought we should get this guy committed,'' Ault said, laughing.

The results were immediate. The Wolf Pack finished 9-3 overall and tied for first in the WAC at 7-1 in 2005. They were 14th nationally in total offense (449.3 ypg) and 16th in scoring (34.2 ppg). They rushed for 199.5 yards a game and passed for 249.8.

Ault said the pistol fits his philosophy better than the shotgun.

``I enjoyed watching shotgun teams. I just felt when they ran the ball, all the running was east-west,'' Ault said. ``I asked myself if there were a way you could put the back behind you and go north-south out of the shotgun. How would it align and get the quarterback more involved?' We started by saying, 'Let's keep the running back 7 yards back and move the quarterback 4 yards from the ball.' It added another dimension for us.''

The Wolf Pack will have a first-time starter at quarterback in Nick Graziano. He replaces Jeff Rowe, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Graziano, a sophomore, won the job over redshirt freshman Colin Kaepernick. Both will play, Ault said.

Graziano passed for 92 yards and a touchdown in brief appearances in eight games.

Nebraska cornerback Cortney Grixby said the pistol is different but effective.

``It's worked for them,'' he said. ``It's difficult to prepare for, but we're doing well with it. They put the quarterback in for a lot of running. There is more space for him to move around. You have to read your keys. You've got to be disciplined in your assignments.''

For Nebraska, Callahan's West Coast offense has a new point man.

Sam Keller, the Arizona State transfer, will make his first start of the Cornhuskers.

Keller, a senior, was MVP of the Sun bowl at the end of the 2004 season after leading Arizona State to a come-from-behind victory over Purdue. In 2005, he threw for 2,165 yards and 20 touchdowns in the first seven games before a season-ending hand injury.