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Tuesday, June 18
The Indiana Daily Student

sports football

Pistol offense excels at spring scrimmage

If the first offensive drive in last Saturday’s intra-squad-controlled scrimmage foreshadows frequent play-calls in the fall, the IU football team will surrender leads more often than it plays catch-up.

Quarterback Ben Chappell jogged onto the turf at Memorial Stadium as if he had been defending the Rock for a decade. He backpedaled a few steps from his center, Will Matte, and lined up in the pistol formation – the Hoosiers’ new offense that resembles a shotgun. But Chappell is a yard or two closer to his blockers.

Behind him was running back Bryan Payton, who after a hand-off exchange with Chappell displayed some knee-breaking jukes good enough to move the chains.
One play. First down.

Chappell received the next signal from the sideline, one that’s probably circled, highlighted and in large, bold font in the playbook.

He went back to pass and quickly spiraled the ball into Kellen Lewis’s breadbasket, watching the quarterback-turned-wide receiver burst for a 30-yard touchdown while defenders appeared in slow motion.

Two plays. Six points.

And yes, players were trying to hit the speedster because Lewis doesn’t sport the black, “can’t-hit-the-quarterback” jersey anymore.

If IU has any shot to beat any conference foes in its challenging schedule, Chappell, Lewis and Payton must set the tone early and take control when things go into disarray. Don’t be alarmed if you see the ball in their hands when the game is on the line, either.

But by all means, this is not a three-man team.

The pistol offense can only function properly if the whole team works together rather than as separate entities on the field.

IU coach Bill Lynch said wide receivers Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher – both sophomores – are Chappell’s prime targets as well.

In nearly every post-game press conference last season, the Hoosiers’ opponents confessed they had a spy who shadowed the explosive Lewis for all 60 minutes.

Chances are Lewis will have a spotter again, even if he’s not the quarterback.
That being the case, offensive coordinator Matt Canada uses Doss and Belcher to alleviate the pressure on Lewis. Both are taller than Lewis and are useful for fade routes in the red zone, an area in which IU isn’t statistically noteworthy.

The 300-plus in attendance also saw depth at the ground game, an intangible element that’s been absent since former coach Bill Mallory’s famous run call for college hall of fame running back Anthony Thompson.

Lynch understands his squad scored only 19 rushing touchdowns last season and is committed to restoring the lost art.

On Saturday, Payton worked with Trea Burgess, Demetrius McCray and Shawn Major-Winston, which added some versatility to the field.

One of the main problems last year was that the coaching staff gave Marcus Thigpen the bulk of the carries, and other teams began to take notice.

This year, though, there’s not just one running back. You might see as many as four.
Payton and McCray are two hard-nosed runners who can seemingly blow past any linebacker or tackle.

Burgess and Major-Winston are quick to the outside and are tough to catch in the open field.
When IU competes against the perennial powers, all four backs have a good chance of playing. Adept defenses usually will gear up for one solid running back, whereas the Hoosiers bring four unique styles to the table.

With 21 seniors and 20 juniors, Lynch’s squad can’t make excuses about inexperience when it battles Ohio State, Michigan and Virginia.

If the Hoosiers use the pistol offense backed by Chappell, Lewis and Payton to their advantage, football might be the talk of the town before you leave for winter break. 

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