Clemson giving 'Pistol' offense a serious shot

Clemson Football  - Tajh Boyd and D.J. Howard

Photo by Mark Crammer

Clemson Football - Tajh Boyd and D.J. Howard

— It is no secret that Clemson sought some new offensive ideas during the offseason.

Looking for answers in short-yardage and running-game situations, the Tigers’ offensive staff, led by coordinator Chad Morris, visited Nevada and Oklahoma State, learning ways to tweak Morris’ hurry-up, no-huddle system.

What might surprise you is how much they’re employing their findings.

“This year,” senior tailback Andre Ellington said Monday, “a lot of our offense is going to be from the pistol.”

For the uninitiated, the “Pistol” formation is a variation on the shotgun offense made famous by Nevada and coach Chris Ault. Where shotgun offenses put the quarterback five to six yards behind the line of scrimmage, the Pistol places him four yards behind the line, with a tailback placed directly behind him, as opposed to beside him, as in the shotgun.

Balancing additions to offense

None

Ellington believes it will give the offense a new – and much-needed – wrinkle.

“It’s an advantage for the offense, the running back especially,” he said. “Because we (tailbacks) are squared up behind the quarterback. The linebackers can’t tell where we’re going to go. Left or right. As opposed to being in the slant formation, where most of the time we’re coming across the ball.”

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said formations like the Pistol are all about augmenting an already-successful scheme. In 2011, the Tigers were 21st nationally in passing offense, 26th in total offense and 24th in scoring offense, but only 59th in rushing offense, averaging 158.5 yards rushing per game.

Short-yardage situations and toughness were particular concerns.

“Our base package, that’s the bolts of what we do. There are things we’re trying to tweak from what we did last year, then there’s some things we learned, then here’s some totally new things we want to try out and see how our guys take to them,” he said. “I really like what we’re trying to do. I think you can really help us with some of the problems we had last year, further tie it together a little bit more.”

Much like the famous rug in The Big Lebowski, the changes “tie the whole package together,” Swinney said.

“It affects all the situations,” he said. “It’s really our play-action stuff, some of those things that are affecting us on first down, short yardage. It’s some things we’re doing from an alignment standpoint, a few little things we’ve changed as far as how we’re blocking two, three of our core plays.”

Are the changes permanent? No, Swinney said.

He, Morris and the staff will meet following spring practice to see what worked, what didn’t, and how it’ll be incorporated into 2012’s plans.

This is the time to think about tweaks, however – and it appears Clemson is giving these tweaks plenty of consideration.

“At the end of the day, once spring is over, we’ll go back and evaluate what we did,” he said. “We’ll really hone in on what we want them to work on in summer, ‘Because this is what we’re going to do in fall camp.’ Spring is the time to do that.”

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