UCLA gives ‘pistol’ offense a shot

The sight of UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince running around made Bruins fans a little nervous last season. They may have to get used to it.

Prince may be more of a rabbit this season, as UCLA coaches have the Bruins running the “pistol” offense, used with success by Nevada, this spring. Prince and backup Richard Brehaut worked exclusively out of the shotgun in the first day of spring practice Thursday, keeping the ball several times.

Offensive coordinator Norm Chow was coy, saying, “I don’t know why you’re calling it the pistol. We ran the same formation last year.”

But Coach Rick Neuheisel said that “it’s an experimenting of sorts. It is an effort to increase our run production. We want to make sure we are exploring every option to be a more effective running team.”

This offense is familiar to Prince, who said he ran a similar one at Encino Crespi High School. But it will require him to run the ball more than he has in the past, using the type of sleight-of-hand fakes that Oregon has used with success in its offense.

Prince and Brehaut both carried the ball repeatedly during Thursday’s practice, though there was limited contact as players were not in pads. Prince missed two games because of a fractured jaw last season. He also suffered a concussion in one game and a minor shoulder separation in another.

“I don’t worry about Kevin running the ball, but you got to be careful of the number of times he runs the ball,” Neuheisel said. “But as you study the teams do the different stuff, you realize the quarterback doesn’t carry it a whole bunch. It’s the threat of him carrying it.”

Chow visited Nevada to get pointers on the offense. He said he also visited Colorado State and the Philadelphia Eagles, and pointed out, “We ran one play today that I got at Colorado State.”

But Chow also admitted he was reluctant to talk about any offensive plans for next season. Neuheisel, though, was more to the point, saying that he hoped the pistol would improve the Bruins’ running game.

“I don’t think it does anything for the throwing game,” Neuheisel said. “We can do everything we’ve always done…. The question is what can we accomplish in the running game, and that remains to be seen.”

Tailback Johnathan Franklin was UCLA’s leading rusher with 566 yards last season, but the Bruins averaged only 3.5 yards per carry. Nevada had three 1,000-yard rushers last season, including quarterback Colin Kaepernick, though the ground success came mostly against Western Athletic Conference teams.

Prince said that Chow informed the quarterbacks of the change during the off-season, “So we started doing everything out of the shotgun to get our footwork right.”

What Prince likes about the offense is “It keeps the defense real honest. They have to respect all 11 players on the field. When the quarterback is under center and hands off, he has nothing more to do. When you do read zone stuff, they have to account for everybody. It makes the defense work a little harder.”

How committed the Bruins will be to the pistol remains to be seen.

“We know what we know about the other offense,” Neuheisel said. “We’ve got to take some time and, with 15 practices, we can’t look around, then it’s wasted time. We’ve got to make an investment.”

Quick hits

Tight end Joseph Fauria suffered a groin injury and center Kai Maiava injured his shoulder in Thursday’s practice. Neuheisel said he did not think either injury was serious.… Fullback Demetrius Papadakis is unable to practice after suffering an ankle injury in an automobile accident. Neuheisel said Papadakis should be cleared to practice next week.… UCLA’s first day of practice attracted two high-end recruits, defensive end Greg Townsend Jr. of Beverly Hills High School and quarterback Brock Berglund of Highlands Ranch (Colo.) Valor Christian. Townsend has been offered a scholarship by nearly every Pacific 10 Conference team, including USC and UCLA, and Miami, Tennessee and Notre Dame. Berglund has been offered by Minnesota, Kansas, Kansas State and Utah.