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Super Bowl XLVII: History Behind Colin Kaepernick and The Pistol Offense


After San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick ended his college career in 2010, he etched his name into the NCAA Division 1 history books as the only player to pass for 10,000 yards and rush for 4,000 yards. Even with such astonishing numbers over a four-year period, Kaepernick was never candidate for the Heisman Trophy and never was he considered a first-round draft pick in 2011. This was not because of any shortcomings or a lack of athletic ability, but many thought the Pistol Offense he ran at the University of Nevada that made him successful was a gimmick.

Chris Ault was a head coach at the high school and college level from 1969-2012 and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002. Ault made a name for himself as the head coach at the University of Nevada with three different stints as the man in charge (1976-1992, 1994-1995, and 2004-20012). While he was renowned in the college football realm, the NFL world was only recently introduced to him thanks to 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman running a version of the Pistol Offense with Kaepernick at the helm.

Ault created the Pistol Offense in 2004 and implemented it at Nevada the following year. He invented the Pistol as a way to blend a traditional shotgun formation with a single back offense. In the 49ers version of the formation, Kaepernick lines up four yards behind center Jonathan Goodwin, as opposed to seven yards behind like in the shotgun. Instead of lining up next to Kaepernick in the backfield Frank Gore is three yards directly behind him.

The Pistol formation has many advantages for the 49ers offense. It confuses the defense by using play-action, counters and draws making the run game more effective. The formation allows Kaepernick to see over the line more easily to read the defense and call the right play. One of the reasons Kaep put up such big numbers in college and the NFL is because the Pistol works best if the QB has both a strong and fast legs. Kaep fits that description perfectly.

Ault on the Pistol Offense:

The first premise is the running back has to be the guy carrying the load for you. The quarterback has to be a threat.

The 49ers offense was run-oriented long before Harbaugh came to San Francisco. When he drafted Kaepernick in 2011 he did so knowing the type of offense he ran in college, the Pistol. It now seems like Harbaugh was not in camp that thought the Pistol was a gimmick, but believed it could be successful in the NFL with the right quarterback.

Since Kaepernick took over as the starter, Harbaugh has blended Gore into the run-oriented Pistol Offense with great success. Gore’s two rushing touchdowns last week were due in part to the Atlanta Falcons focusing so much attention on stopping Kaepernick from rushing to the outside. That left the middle up of the field wide open for Gore and LaMichael James.

With the dual threat of Kaepernick and Gore, the Baltimore Ravens will develop a game plan to cover both. But with the way the 49ers run the Pistol you can only effectively stop one on each play. The Green Packers focused on stopping Gore which allowed Kaep to rush for 181 yards. The Niners knew the Falcons defense would focus their sights in on Kaepernick which exposed the middle rushing lanes allowing Gore to burn them.

Who knows what Harbaugh and Roman have in store for the Ravens defense in the Super Bowl. No matter what they throw at them, what we do know is Kaepernick will be a big part of the game plan. At end of the game when the 49ers are celebrating their sixth Super Bowl win, Chris Ault will not get much attention, but he will have his so-called gimmick offense validated at footballs highest highest level and on its biggest stage.

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