clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Inside the Clemson Offense: Pistol Formations from CU's Offense

We expect base formations out of the Pistol formation to be similar to other formations Clemson uses with Chad Morris' standard gun applications. The real differences lie in the backfield positioning. As we discussed earlier, the QB will be approx. 3.5-4.5 yards behind the LOS and tailback will be 7 yards off the LOS directly behind the QB and center.


We gave a primer on what to expect formation-wise out of CM's HUNH offense prior to last season. Most of the items discussed there will carry over into Pistol looks as shown through illustrations. Nothing is necessarily new, as Clemson used some of these concepts last season:


We'll first delve into the nomenclature of the Clemson offense and attempt to stay consistent with this information through our progression. We tried to tweek our original player description to match what we'll see in Pistol and here is what we came up with:

  • The 1 - the quarterback
  • The 2 - a WR who will constantly be moving around, mostly in the slot position to the left or outside on the right. He'll be aligned off the LOS usually, essentially a Flanker/Z position. The 2 will frequently get the ball on sweeps as well. The 2 is the primary running threat in the WR group.
  • The 3 - an inside receiver to the left, he'll be used like an H-back, a RB, and a slot WR all in one. In a nutshell, this player is a tight end who can also be trusted to take handoffs. In 2-back sets he'll take on more a of a traditional I-formation fullback or H-back role, and a lead in stacked sets. Dwayne Allen was a 3-back but not a ballcarrying threat, and JJ McCullough is the type of guy who fills this role moving forward. This spot is meant to utilize a "tweener".
  • The 4 - The tailback, aligned 1.5 yards directly behind the QB in Pistol. He calls protections in this offense and he has to be able to pick up a blitz. This player can be motioned out of the backfield or intentionally lined up just outside of the tackle.
  • The 5 - the best receiver, with the best hands. This will be a guy that goes deep quite often. He aligns inside and on the right usually, on the LOS. He'll get bubble screens quite often as well. Expect the player at this position to be a featured WR in the offense.
  • The 9 - A true WR, aligned on the outside to the left normally. This would be like the Split End/X position. Clemson currently features Nuk Hopkins in this role.
  • Splits between all the WRs and the linemen will be as wide as possible to create spacing issues for the defense and take as many defenders out of the box as possible.
  • **Note, depending on hash position, some of these roles will alternate. For instance, Watkins will roll into either the 2 or 5-whichever is away from the boundary. We'll also make TE adjustments between 3 and 5 based on field orientation and matchups.

The original Pistol as developed by Chris Ault at Nevada was a morph of the I-Formation and, thus, lined the TE up regularly in a three-point stance on the LOS. Clemson will likely steer away from such and stick with items currently in the HUNH offense. We'll focus on what we expect out of the Tigers this fall in this post then give potential options that require some changes in a future article.

The first formation we'll look at is the base formation. This is the Spread Doubles (or Flex Ace) formation.


This is Clemson's current base formation and I assure you the Chad will incorporate it into his pistol arsenal.

Below are the two trips looks you'll see. You probably noticed that Clemson likes to maintain left and right receivers and build upon that strategy, hence trips left is not the mirror of trips right.


Morris likes to pull the (typically TE) 3 man into the formation to generate running strongholds. These formations reflect what we saw last season and are commonly referred to as "Stack" formations. Typically there is motion involved here and we will discuss such in a later article. The stack formation places the 3 man inside the tackle and in an excellent power running position.


As we continue into more power formations, we'll discuss "King" and "Queen." King places the 3 man to the quarterback's right. Queen places the 3 man to the quarterback's left. This is a variation of the stack concept we discussed earlier.



The last item we'll discuss is the "inverted bone" concept. We saw Clemson use this last season at times and will surely see it moving forward. This look combines the "King" and "Queen" items seen earlier into one formation. While one initially thinks this is nothing but a power running formation, Chad Morris used it last season to provide some play action and max protection for Tajh Boyd.