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UCLA fired mostly blanks in the pistol offense

Bruins gave up the offense when Jim Mora took over as coach, but Nevada, UCLA's opponent Saturday night, has made it work in a big way.

August 31, 2013|By Chris Foster
  • UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, right, tries to block a pass by Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo during the second quarter of Saturday's game.
UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, right, tries to block a pass by Nevada quarterback… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

UCLA fans remember Nevada’s pistol offense, and probably cringe. The Bruins ran it in 2010 and 2011 and it helped usher in a new era … the Jim Mora Era.

In two seasons, quarterbacks Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut suffered injuries — Prince on a couple of occasions — which is among the reasons Rick Neuheisel is now a former UCLA coach.

Born in Reno, the offense died at UCLA when Mora arrived as head coach and Noel Mazzone took over as offensive coordinator.

Quarterback Brett Hundley trained in the pistol as a redshirt freshman in 2011, before the new coaching staff arrived. He was able to watch Nevada run it against the Bruins in a season opener Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

“That could have been us,” Hundley said last week as the Bruins were preparing for the Wolf Pack. “At the end of the day, the Pistol is a cool scheme when you use it correctly.”

The Bruins rarely did.

Norm Chow, UCLA’s former offensive coordinator, even went to the factory floor, visiting Nevada during the 2010 season to see if he could figure out why the offense was a lemon in Westwood. Then Neuheisel hired Nevada assistant Jim Mastro before the 2011 season hoping to fix the problem.

Still, nothing.

The Bruins ranked 72nd in total offense nationally in 2011, which was only marginally better than with Chow’s pro-style offense in 2009 — the Bruins ranked 88th.

The offense made UCLA quarterbacks an endangered species, consistently exposing them to the violence along the line of scrimmage.

“I like the spread a lot better,” Hundley said. “It suits my abilities.”

Hundley never had to run the pistol during a game, though the Bruins do use an element of it in Mazzone’s spread. The rate that quarterbacks were dropping at UCLA never entered Hundley’s mind, though it nearly landed him in a game against Oregon State in 2011.

“There was a lot stuff going on back then,” Hundley said. “In the back of my mind, I was making sure I was ready to play each game. If I was put in, then I was put in.”

Hundley is not the only UCLA player happy with the change.

Running back Jordon James spent the 2011 season doing fly sweeps as an F-back. The play had him running toward the sideline as opposed to toward the goal line. It did not seem the best use of his skills.

“I definitely didn’t like the fly sweeps,” James said.

James had 54 yards rushing in 14 carries during the 2011 season. In the spread last season, he had 215 yards rushing in 61 carries as the third-string back.

James, though, was not one to ponder the change. “We’re not even worried about that,” he said. “That offense is so far away that it’s hard to think about. I’m focused on our offense and what we have to do.”

The pistol, in the days leading up to Saturday night’s game, was entirely the UCLA defense’s problem.

Nevada was eighth nationally in total offense last season, averaging 514.9 yards. Quarterback Cody Fajardo was responsible for a large chunk of that. He was 10th nationally in total offense with 2,786 yards passing and 1,121 yards rushing.

Of course, several of UCLA’s defensive players faced a pistol offense in every practice for two years.

“I already have a basic understanding of it,” defensive end Cassius Marsh said. “I was able to get into details when studying film. I was able to work on all different things trying to get the most out of myself when I’m out there on game day.”

Said linebacker Jordan Zumwalt: “It’s assignment football, you get guys in their gaps.”

Stated like that, it sounds easy to defend.

As it usually was when UCLA was running it.

chris.foster@latimes.com
Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

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