Pistol set to evolve again
August 18, 2013
RENO — Richy Turner could barely contain his enthusiasm.
“Our offense is going to be amazing this year,” the Nevada Wolf Pack wide receiver said. “It’s going to be beyond belief.”
That’s just the start.
“There’s nothing we can’t do,” Turner said.
Optimism connected to the offense is nothing new at Nevada. Former head coach Chris Ault’s pistol attack, after all, has been one of the most potent offense in the nation since it debuted in 2005. Last year under Ault the Pack finished eighth in the nation in total offense at 515 yards a game and 18th in scoring at 38 points a game.
Back for another year in Silver and Blue will be starting wide receivers Brandon Wimberly, Aaron Bradley and Turner. Quarterback Cody Fajardo returns for his junior year as does starting center Matt Galas and tackle Joel Bitonio. Backup running back Kendall Brock is also back as are tight ends Kolby Arendse and Stephen Jeffers.
The most important member of the 2012 team to come back this year, though, might be offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich. Rolovich, who left the Pack briefly last January to become the offensive coordinator at Temple, takes full ownership of the offense this year after serving his pistol apprenticeship last year under Ault.
“The pistol grows every year,” said Fajardo, who is 11-9 as a starter over the last two seasons. “The pistol always keeps evolving.”
That evolution just might get kicked into high gear under Rolovich this year. The former Hawaii quarterback and offensive coordinator promises to combine Ault’s run-heavy pistol with his Mouse Davis-June Jones run-and-shoot roots.
“It’s still in me,” Rolovich said. “You can’t change your history.”
Rolovich was lured back to Nevada last January by new head coach Brian Polian.
“I’m not stupid,” Polian said. “I know how good this offense has been here.”
Rolovich’s pass-happy history at Hawaii explains all of the new excitement and energy surrounding the Pack offense this year, despite the loss of the offense’s architect in Ault. As a quarterback at Hawaii in 2001, Rolovich once threw for 543 yards and eight touchdowns against BYU.
“I would assume he’s going to put his little touches in there,” smiled Turner.
Wimberly, Turner and Bradley combined to catch 175 passes last season for 2,064 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“We’re definitely going to have a lot more pass plays this year,” said Turner, who had 60 catches last year for 752 yards an three touchdowns.
Turner said he wouldn’t be shocked if someone on the roster becomes the first Pack receiver to catch 100 passes in a season since Ault invented the pistol after the 2004 season. The last Pack player to catch 100 passes was Nate Burleson with 138 in 2002.
“Why not?” said Wimberly, who caught 70 passes last year for 845 yards and four scores. “That’s only 30 more balls.”
The Pack offense a year ago was based on running back Stephon Jefferson and the junior turned in arguably the greatest season ever by a Pack back with a school-record 1,883 yards and 25 touchdowns, Jefferson also had a school-record 375 carries.
That, Rolovich and Polian have already declared, is not going to happen this year. Jefferson, who declared early for the NFL draft last spring (he was not drafted) is gone and has been replaced by sophomore newcomer Don Jackson (from Iowa Western College) and 5-foot-8 holdover Kendall Brock.
“We’re still going to run the ball,” Rolovich said.
Rolovich said that Jackson and Brock will be used a bit differently than Jefferson was used a year ago. Jackson, and especially Brock, will be a vital part of the passing offense this year, Rolovich said. “They are both weapons in space,” Rolovich said. “Both can catch the ball very well out of the backfield.”
The pistol, though, earned its reputation by grinding defenses up with its running game.
“We have The Union,” said Wimberly, referring to the Pack’s offensive line. “They always get the job done. I always say that anybody can run the ball well behind The Union.”
Fajardo, though, who completed 246-of-367 passes last year for 2,786 yards and 20 touchdowns, said he expects to put the ball in the air more often in 2013. But, he warned, don’t expect to see Rolovich’s run-and-shoot roots.
“The tight end is very significant in the pistol offense,” Fajardo said. “Coach Rolo never had a tight end at Hawaii. They just spread everybody out and threw it. I don’t think we’ll do that here. I know we haven’t practiced that.”
Rolovich said his year under Ault learning the pistol was beneficial.
“I learned how running the ball makes us a better, more efficient passing team,” Rolovich said. “I was surprised by the limited coverages we saw last year and it was all because teams were afraid of how we could run the ball.”
Rolovich, though, admitted that Fajardo biggest improvement this year will be in the passing game.
“He has grown so much in the passing game,” Rolovich said. “I have definitely seen him develop his own style throwing the ball.”
Rolovich’s pistol, though, could look very different from Ault’s pistol when the Pack opens its season Aug. 31 at UCLA.
“You know, this game is a crazy game,” Rolovich said. “It is always changing. Coach Ault’s greatest strength was that he was always evolving as a coach. He taught me that if we get complacent, people will figure us out. You have to keep growing.”