Brian Murphy: Ault's legacy impacts both teams on the blue

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comOctober 19, 2013 

Chris Ault won't be pacing the Nevada sideline Saturday night at Bronco Stadium, but the former Wolf Pack coach, who retired after last season, will still have a tremendous impact on the field when Boise State and Nevada meet on the blue turf.

Both offenses will be lining up in the pistol formation, the one Ault invented in 2004 and used to turn Nevada into an offensive juggernaut, especially with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback. The formation has spread throughout every level of football, including the NFL, and has become the primary formation for Boise State, Nevada's longtime rival.

"We liked it right away. We probably would have done it way earlier except Nevada was in our league and we were like, 'How can we put this in here when we have to play these guys every year?' It took us a couple years to get over that, to say, 'Hey, this stuff is just too good,' " Boise State coach Chris Petersen said.

The Broncos have incorporated some pistol - the quarterback lines up about four yards behind the center with a running back behind him - in the last few seasons, but this year it has become their signature formation in its revamped offense.

Petersen said the Broncos have consulted with "some people who have some pretty good knowledge about it," but he did not reach out to Ault, despite a good relationship with the College Football Hall of Fame coach.

Ault, after all, did spend 41 years as a player, coach and/or administrator at Nevada and is nearly synonymous with the Wolf Pack program.

"I probably didn't call him because I wanted to think he would help us, and if he said no … ," Petersen said this week.

The Broncos liked the pistol because it allows for a power running game and does not tip off the defense by putting a running back to the side of a quarterback, like the shotgun does.

"That back tells you a lot on the defensive side," Petersen said.

Without a back next to the quarterback, throws can be made quicker. Boise State uses a lot of quick passes to the outside.

"It clears it up on the side of you," Boise State third-string quarterback Nick Patti said. "It kind of gives you a little bit more room back there."

Even without Ault, who now works as a consultant with the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs, Nevada has continued to run a pistol-based offense under first-year coach Brian Polian. The Wolf Pack diversified its blocking schemes, but the offense looks very similar to what Ault was doing. Offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich is a holdover from Ault's final staff.

Changing the offense at Nevada in the first year post-Ault would be akin to Mark Coyle tearing up the blue turf in his first year after replacing longtime Boise State Athletic Director and father of the blue Gene Bleymaier.

In other words, you don't mess with success - or the thing that made you famous.

As a result, neither defense should be surprised by what they see Saturday night, particularly in the running game.

"Honestly, it's pretty similar," Polian said. "There are some wrinkles, just like there's going to be everywhere. Good for them. They found another piece of offense that they're getting good at and they're using it. Certainly, there's not a trademark on it. Could it be a slight advantage for us on defense that we're used to it? Could be. It's not an advantage unless you make it one. We still have to get off blocks and tackle."

That has been a problem for Nevada, another leftover from the Ault days. The Wolf Pack rank No. 121 (out of 123) in the country in run defense, allowing 267.2 yards per game. Boise State running back Jay Ajayi, a big reason the Broncos felt comfortable going to the downhill running style from the pistol, could have a big game.

"He's a big back, and we want him to get downhill and be productive," offensive coordinator Robert Prince said. "We always feel like if we hand the ball of to Jay, we're going to get 2, 3 yards at the least."

How Ajayi gets the ball will look real similar to Nevada. It will be the same way Wolf Pack running backs have been getting the ball since 2004, since Ault dreamed up a formation that changed football everywhere, including at Boise State.

"I always like things that are a little bit novel," Petersen said.

Or, in this case, a lot novel. Invented and perfected by a rival. Installed to great success in Boise. Ault's pistol will be front and center Saturday night, even if he won't be.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444; Twitter: @murphsturph

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