The pistol formation will remain a part of the University of Akron offense.
However, it will continue to share time with the pro-style look favored by coach Rob Ianello and his offensive staff.
“Week to week, we will see what is the best way to attack teams,” said Ianello, whose Zips (1-7, 0-4) play tonight at Miami (3-5, 2-2) in a Mid-American Conference game televised on ESPNU. “That’s what we are trying to do offensively.”
When Ianello was hired Dec. 10, 2009, he was emphatic that the Zips would employ the pro offense that Notre Dame used for much of his time as an assistant coach with the Irish.
In the pro set, the quarterback is often under center, and the backfield has a tailback and a fullback. Often utilizing two tight ends, the formation is designed to advance the ball through runs and play-action passes.
The Zips used that offensive set almost exclusively in 2010 under then-sophomore quarterback Patrick Nicely and in the first six games of 2011 under sophomore Clayton Moore.
However, with just two victories in that time, Ianello and his coaches began experimenting last month with the pistol, no-huddle offense that has become a staple of many college programs.
“It fits our team better right now,” Ianello said. “After going through and seeing what defenses have been doing to us, this adjustment will help us counter those defenses.”
The pistol formation has the quarterback 4½ yards behind center, with a tailback directly behind him. The plays are called from the sideline, so no huddle is needed and the pace is uptempo. With only one back, an extra wide receiver is usually in the game.
The Zips installed the pistol in the off week of Oct. 10 and used it occasionally against Ohio and Central Michigan, and they will use it tonight against Miami.
“We studied this during the bye week and then went to this at-the-line package in the pistol,” Ianello said. “We liked it, the players liked it. I think it fits our quarterback.”
Ianello said that the transition to the pistol has been easy because many of the plays remain the same and that only the backfield formation was altered.
“We haven’t changed our run structure. The pistol gives us the same run action, the same runs we had if the quarterback was under center,” Ianello said.
In a 23-22 loss to Central Michigan last Saturday, the Zips used the pro set for much of the first half and had 32 plays that netted 77 yards. In the second half, using the pistol and their two-minute shotgun offense, the Zips had 42 plays that netted 330 yards.
Ianello said the difference was in his team’s execution and the less aggressive Chippewas defense, not the formation, so he will continue to use both the pro and pistol looks.
“It has been good to us so far,” Ianello said about the pistol. “We still have our other packages. The two-back packages, our two-tight end package and our under-the-center stuff are still part of what we do.”
That offense will be facing a Miami defense that has been consistent all season, even in the team’s 0-4 start. The RedHawks are allowing 368.4 yards per game, which is No. 48 among the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams and No. 4 in the 13-team Mid-American Conference.
The Redhawks, the defending conference champions, also are No. 1 in the MAC in tackles for loss (63) and No. 2 in sacks (19).
“They use an aggressive-style defense. We will see blitzes from a lot of difference places,” Ianello said. “They create things on defense.”
The Zips have lost four games in a row but have been competitive in all except the home loss to Ohio (37-20). The other three losses have been by an average of 6.3 points.
“They play hard throughout the entire game,” Miami coach Don Treadwell said during the weekly MAC teleconference. “They are very balanced offensively and defensively. They fly to the ball and play very physically.”
The Zips, who are the only MAC team without a conference victory, start a stretch tonight of having three of their next four games on the road.
That does not bode well because UA has lost 17 consecutive away games. In addition, the Zips have never won in Oxford as a MAC member.
“We have to grow and win on the road,” Ianello said. “That’s a goal of our program and we have three opportunities left.”
After tonight, the Zips have a few extra days to prepare for their home game on Nov. 12 against Kent State.
Miami’s defensive coordinator is Pete Rekstis, who held the same position at Kent State from 2004-10. ... Miami is a 14-point favorite. ... The Zips’ last road win was Oct. 18, 2008, at Eastern Michigan (42-35). ... UA is 116th nationally in sacks allowed (3.50 per game) and 117th in third-down conversions (26.55 percent).