BERKELEY, Calif. – The pistol conjures up thoughts of the Wild West, of villains and rustlers wearing black hats.
For California, the Pistol offense conjures up flashbacks of quarterbacks running through its white-clad defense the past two seasons.
In 2010, Nevada ambushed the Bears and shot them down in a 52-31 upset in front of a nationally-television audience. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick had 148 of the Wolf Pack’s 316 rushing yards while accounting for five touchdowns.
Last season, it was UCLA plugging them right between the eyes, 31-14, with signal-caller Kevin Prince running for 163 yards.
Cal must keep Nevada from doing it again Saturday (noon, Pac-12 Network), no small challenge as its Hall of Fame coach Chris Ault developed the Pistol by combining option football principles with a power running game.
The formation has the quarterback in the shotgun, but only four yards behind the center, allowing the running back to line up directly behind him.
“They are very efficient with it, no doubt about it,” Cal head coach Jeff Tedford said. “It’s like the triple option. You need to make sure you cancel all phases of what goes on with the run game, with the quarterback, the pass game, the pitch. It is really important to be really disciplined.”
Discipline was in short supply two years ago in Reno, as Nevada ran for 6.4 yards per carry while Cal defenders were out of position time and again.
“A lot of people weren’t in the right spot, weren’t doing what they were supposed to do and weren’t trusting each other,” safety Josh Hill said. “The big thing for us this year is to trust each other and do what we’re supposed to do.”
"It’s just small things, really small assignment,” defensive lineman Kendrick Payne said. “Even when the game is on the line, don’t try to do your own thing. Do your own assignment to the best of your ability and we will be fine.”
Quarterback Cody Fajardo will be the one trying to confuse the defense this time after an impressive debut season. As a freshman out of Anaheim (Calif.) Servite, Fajardo directed a five-game winning streak while making eight starts last season, completing 68.8 percent of his passes for 1,707 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions.
Adding 694 yards and a team-best 11 touchdowns on the ground, the comparisons between Fajardo and Kaepernick, the only player in NCAA history to throw for 10,000 yards and rush for 4,000.
“He definitely is not too far away from Kaepernick,” Payne said. “I’ve seen that he is very mobile. Kaepernick was just an amazing athlete. You’re not going to find too many like him, but he definitely still poses a threat to run the ball.”
Tedford has a reasonable idea of what to expect from Fajardo, Nevada, and his own team, but cautions game film and fall camp are nothing like a season opener.
“You go in and you hope you know who you are, but you never really know until you get there. We’re prepared, but there is always something that comes up in a game that you have to adjust to, whether it be for them or is,” Tedford said.
“We’re as ready as we can be without playing a game. We’ve practiced every situation, we’ve run plays a lot of times, now it is just a matter of executing.”
There is an additional unknown, returning to Memorial Stadium after its $300-million renovation. A sold-out crowd of 63,000 is expected for the first game to be played on campus in 22 months.
“There’s no question it is a big day to open the stadium and we’d like to play well and be successful to cap off the day,” Tedford said.
To do so will mean finally silencing the Pistol.
Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and covers the Pac-12 for Fox Sports/Scout.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.