ARIZONA 39 USC 36: A hard-earned win

UA's Matt Scott takes a helmet-to-helmet hit from USC's Dion Bailey in the fourth quarter. Scott stayed in and threw a TD pass before leaving for good.


As offenses go, the pistol is more gadget than game plan. Many college football teams run a few plays in the trendy formation, which combines principles of the lead-option and veer attacks.

UCLA, however, is all-in.

The Arizona Wildcats will take on the Bruins - and their new pistol attack - when the teams meet at the Rose Bowl on Saturday in a key midseason matchup.

Arizona (6-1, 3-1) can secure a place in a bowl game with a win. The Bruins (3-4, 1-3) can barely afford another loss.

Here's everything you need to know about the Bruins' new offense:

The basics: Like its lead-option cousin, the pistol relies on the quarterback and running back to create matchup problems. The quarterback lines up four yards behind the line of scrimmage, with the running back three yards behind him. When the ball is snapped, the quarterback can either hand the ball off up the middle, keep it and run, throw a play-action pass or swing the ball wide. However, most pistol plays are run up the middle.

"We still have a lot of what the spread option has - the read zone," UCLA quarterback Richard Brehaut said. "The quarterback has some type of read he has to make when he has to keep the ball."

UA coach Mike Stoops said there are "some option principles" to the attack, too.

"There's all kinds of elements to it to try to get you moving," he said. "You have to try to simplify it the best you can."

Origins: University of Nevada coach Chris Ault invented the scheme in 2005 when he was intrigued by Florida coach Urban Meyer's lead-option offense, but was bothered by its lack of up-the-middle running. So he moved the quarterback closer to the line of scrimmage and put a back behind him. The modified shotgun - hence the word pistol - helped the Wolfpack post a 9-3 season and a win in the Hawaii Bowl.

Going L.A.: UCLA adopted the Pistol after last season, one in which the Bruins averaged just 22 points per game and finished 97th nationally in rushing yards per game. Coach Rick Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow visited Nevada during the off-season to learn the basics of the offense, but didn't commit fully to it until preseason camp. Playbooks, issued to UCLA's players, came inscribed with a quote from Madame Chiang Kai-shek: "We write our own destiny. We become what we do."

The Texas takedown: UCLA's offense came of age on Sept. 25 when the Bruins trounced Texas 34-12 in Austin. UCLA rushed for 264 yards on 56 attempts against an overmatched Longhorns defense. The Bruins completed 5 of 9 passes for 27 yards.

UCLA's first road win against a ranked team since 2001 was a strategic home run.

"That was the apocalypse," Bruins safety Tony Dye told The Associated Press.

The risk: Injury. Anytime a quarterback runs so much, he's likely to get injured. UCLA starter Kevin Prince tore his meniscus in his right knee in the win over Texas; he underwent season-ending arthroscopic surgery and microfracture surgery a week ago. The risk of injury could prevent teams from adopting the pistol full time, UA co-defensive coordinator Tim Kish said.

"I think everybody's heading in that direction until all these quarterbacks get sidelined," he said. "Then maybe the pistol doesn't become the factor it is now."

The reward: Novelty. So few teams run the pistol full time, and that makes it hard to prepare for defensively. Arizona is lucky in that its last two opponents, Washington State and Washington, ran some pistol plays.

"The pistol can be effective whenever - if you're down, if you're up," Brehaut said. "It always has some big-play opportunities."

How to stop it: Discipline. Like stopping triple-option or spread-option attacks, neutralizing the pistol comes down to keying on the right players and "staying home," rather than overcommitting on fakes.

"It causes you to be a little more assignment-oriented, defensively," Kish said. "It's similar to the option in that perspective."

Arizona's defense focused on stopping up-the-middle runs in practice this week. If the Wildcats can take those away on Saturday, they'll be golden.

"It's tough (to defend)," Kish said, "if you allow it to be tough."


Up next

• What: Arizona at UCLA

• When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday


• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM